Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

In How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian, winning a dream home becomes a nightmare for sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford when the sponsor needs a poster family for fundraising. This beautifully written YA novel explores the themes of economic inequity, racism, and assimilation.

As a scholarship student at a private school, Izzy has worked hard to fit in with her affluent classmates. Even her friends don't know that she lives in a mobile home, and since her complexion favors her Caucasian father, she can pass for white. Instead of learning Spanish, her mother's native tongue, Izzy takes French and speaks English at home with her little brother. Their father died a war hero, and their Puerto Rican mother has struggled to support them, often uprooting the family to follow jobs.

Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, the Crawfords finally have a chance to grow permanent roots in rural Virginia, but the new house must be paid for with sweat equity. If they are selected, Izzy and her family are required to help build their house, and local fundraising makes it difficult to hide her poverty from her rich friends and neighbors. Also Izzy's friendship with Roz, the troubled girl in the adjacent mobile home, doesn't fit this new life, and Roz's jealousy threatens Izzy's budding romance with a wealthy boy in her new neighborhood. Torn between conflicting loyalties and clashing identities, Izzy makes mistakes as she searches for the right path in life.

In How to Build a Heart, author Maria Padian drew on her own experience of growing up in an ethnically mixed family. Her Irish American father and Latina mother spoke English at home so their children would assimilate into their white suburban community. The Spanish phrases in the book are expressions Maria's mother used at home. If anything, I wish there had been more focus on Izzy's Latina heritage and less on her nearly seamless assimilation. As someone who grew up with dual religions and often struggled to fit in, I could relate to Izzy's story. Reading a book like this one will encourage more teens to have empathy for biracial and low income peers.

How to Build a Heart won't be released until January 2020, but you can preorder now. This young adult novel would be a great choice for readers ages 12-18, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is domestic violence, and a bit of underage drinking, but irresponsible behavior has consequences. Despite the tough issues, the central plot is a sweet, predictable romance, and the story leaves the reader with hope. This quiet book that slowly builds to a dramatic finale has already earned a starred review from Kirkus, and I expect it to win more awards.

Reviewer's Disclosure: At my request, Algonquin Books for Young Readers sent me a galley in exchange for an honest review. The author is a friend of mine.

Photo of Maria Padian provided by the author

More YA novels by Maria Padian:
Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress
Jersey Tomatoes are the Best
Out of Nowhere
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@Barrie Summy