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


Phyllis Wheeler said...

A thoughtful review! I'm glad to see books like this coming out, challenging young people (and others) to relate to those who are not like them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It often seems that YA novels tackle the bigger subjects. Hurray for YA writers.

Barrie said...

I really enjoyed your review. This book sounds as though it will encourage readers to emphasize with those who don't fit in, whether it be for economical, racial, sexual, intellectual, etc reasons. Empathy is such an important lesson. Also, there's a lot of room for conflict in this storyline, which makes for great reading. I'm with Patti....YA often tackles the big issues. This would be a good book for my teen daughter, and her mother, of course!) . Thank you for reviewing!

Linda McLaughlin said...

Great review, Sarah. A book worthy of reading.

cynthia said...

Sounds like it has everything--and what an amazing cover!

troutbirder said...

Economic inequity, assimilation, racism makes it very relevant for all ages in these troubled times. Atwoods decision to write a sequel is similar in significance. Great review Sarah. Thanks.

thecuecard said...

This YA novel seems to have some good themes in it, especially the economic disparities it highlights. I hope it makes teens more accepting of those without much. Nicely reviewed.

Powell River Books said...

I don't remember books with such substance when I was a teen reader. - Margy

A Cuban In London said...

It sounds like a richly-layered story. Thanks for the review. :-)

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Sarah! This book sounds like an interesting one and I'll add it to my to-read list.

troutbirder said...

Oh my I think my med got the best of me on my previously misplaced Margaret Atwood Testaments comment ...:) I'll start over. Excellent review and this book touches close to home. When my wife was 7 and her parents separated and her mom had to get a job as a night phone operator her wealthy aunt funded her admission to a Catholic residential school for wealthy girls from all the world. They were usually older as well. Needles to say she didn't fit in. It was a horrible experience.