Excerpt from How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How to Build a Heart

by Maria Padian

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian X
How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 352 pages
    Feb 2021, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Roz and I lock eyes behind the protection of the rock wall. Hers are round. Bright. I've never seen her look so... alive. She winks at me, then pulls herself into a crouch and peers over. I do the same.

I can practically read the labels on the soda bottles lining the kitchen counters — that's how close we are. I count a dozen guys either strewn on sofas or shoveling food onto plates, while a low background pulse of music competes with the sports commentator's voice on the television. Two adults — A mom? A dad? — weave among them passing out napkins, laughing at something one of them says.

"What a bunch of assholes," I hear Roz mutter. Not for the first time .

I don't respond. I don't know these people. And even when I have given her some pushback, wondering how it's possible that every person at Clayton County High School could be an asshole, she just says, "You're new here."

Which is true.

"Skinny guy on the couch with the Kawhi Leonard corn rows? Green shirt?" she begins. I have no idea who Kawhi Leonard is, but I see a boy in a green T-shirt eating spaghetti. "That's Darius Jones. He's co-captain with Sam. What a jerk." And she's off. Filling my ear with all of Ned Perkins's/Isaiah Green's/John Mayhew's damning qualities, from their expensive cars to their outrageous sneakers to their terrible girlfriends. Especially their girlfriends. With Hot Sam's Awful Melissa ranking as undeniable Queen of the Worst.

I mean, not really. I wouldn't say something that stupid. But all this info I shouldn't know would be screaming around my head and something might pop from my mouth. Who are you? they'd wonder. Dark-haired, green-eyed girl I've never met but seems to know me?

Sometimes I think I should tell Roz not to tell me any more. Fascinating as it all is, I don't want to slip.

I hate slipping.

Before she points out anyone else, a shadow falls across the deck. Someone stands at the sliding door, about to open it. "Frank! Here, boy!" we hear through the glass. A dog, one of those little bug-eyed dudes that are so ugly they're actually cute, appears at his heel.

"Uh-oh," Roz whispers as the door opens and the dog skitters out.

I'm too busy thinking Frank is a completely hilarious name for a dog to realize: this is not good.

Frank lifts his leg and is about halfway through his whiz on one of the Shackeltons' bushes when he aims his nose in our direction. I can see his nostrils quiver: our scent is a balloon floating inches from his smushy face. Whiz over, he takes two steps toward us, and growls.

The boy who let him out calls, "C'mon, Frank. Inside!" I feel Roz squeeze my arm.

"That's Sam," she says. Frank barks.

"Frank!" Sam insists, clapping. Frank ignores him, his toenails scraping the flagstones as he advances.

"Go, go, go!" Roz hisses in my ear. She doesn't stand: she rolls, away from the wall, until she's at the edge of the woods. Then, at a half crouch, she bolts. She doesn't slink quietly now: she crashes through the underbrush like a herd of elephants. Frank, with a full-throated yap, tears after her.

Leaving me, Isabella Chicken Crawford, frozen in the mud behind the Shackeltons' garden wall.

"Damn," I hear. Way too close. Hot Sam has crossed the patio and now sounds like he's about five feet away. Not that I'm about to lift my head and confirm that distance. "Frank!" He claps again. He whistles, loudly. One of those two-fingers in-your-mouth dog whistles. Then, a woman's voice, from the house.

"Honey, what's wrong?"

"I think Frank is chasing something. He just ran off."

"Oh no. I hope it's not a porcupine again!"

"Serve him right. Dumb dog," Sam mutters. He claps again. "Here, boy!"

I can tell from the sound that he's crossed the lawn. And his back is to me. Which means this is my moment. Before I second-guess myself, I roll, Roz-like, only toward the little pool house. As soon as I reach it, I duck behind it. I peer around the side.

Excerpted from How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian. Copyright © 2020 by Maria Padian. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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