BookBrowse Reviews How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

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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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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2021, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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In this thoughtful coming-of-age tale, a teenager struggles to find herself and a home for her family at the same time.

Maria Padian is well-known for her motif of exploring teen reactions to social issues. Her novel Wrecked was about the #MeToo movement and toxic masculinity, while Out of Nowhere features an economically depressed Maine community's reactions to the presence of a Somalian family. Now, in How to Build a Heart, high school junior Isabella (Izzy) struggles to integrate multiple different aspects of her identity into a cohesive self.

Izzy, her little brother Jack, and their mother Rita have spent the last six years moving from place to place in search of affordable rent, ever since their Marine father was killed in Iraq. He was a child of the genteel North Carolina Crawfords; Rita is Puerto Rican. Now situated in Virginia, Izzy likes her new all-girls Catholic school, especially the acapella chorus she sings in; she is friends with sassy Roz from across the way in the trailer park; and she has caught the eye of handsome, rich Sam. Her new town feels like a place she would not mind putting down some solid roots. And that opportunity presents itself when Rita announces that Habitat for Humanity thinks the Crawfords are perfect candidates for a home in the development they are starting nearby.

With a permanent home so close to reality, Rita cannot understand why Izzy is so uncooperative about Habitat for Humanity's simple requirements—requirements that would force Izzy to reveal her home situation and economic status to her unaware classmates and boyfriend. She also wonders whether Sam's well-to-do family is responsible for local protests against low-income housing. But when it looks like the Crawfords will be unable to meet the "sweat equity" requirement of enlisting friends and family to help with their home's construction, Izzy is the one who steps up and reaches out to her father's family, from whom she, Rita and Jack have been estranged since an incident at a gathering long ago.

The number of subplots and complications make How to Build a Heart simultaneously realistic and overly convoluted. Izzy's grandmother's cruel behavior years earlier explains the divisions in the family, but could be the subject of an entirely different book. Izzy discovers that the one cousin she feels a connection with has had a drug problem—again, the seeds of another story. Izzy's friend Roz has anger issues that realistically should have put her in jail. She also lives in a dangerously abusive household. Satisfying as the solution written by the author to all of this may be, it strains credibility. Nevertheless, this is a potent coming-of-age story about the courage often required for pulling together multiple threads of a life to create an authentic self.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2020, and has been updated for the February 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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