Review: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Title: How to Build a Heart

Author: Maria Padian

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Genre: Contemporary

Age Range: YA

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.

Synopsis: All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

You know those good old heart-wrenching, swoon-inducing, cuddle up and cry books? How to Build a Heart is all that and more. The tears started to build up around page 36 and fell by page 40, and every time I thought they might subside, Izzy Crawford found yet another way to pull on my heartstrings.

Just like Jack doesn’t do waiting, I don’t do disappointments. Not anymore.

Izzy, my sweet, stubborn girl. A few years ago, I was a lot like Izzy: moving around, not having a sense of permanence or stability, and even my family situation was similar, so I know from experience that having good friends (and some not so good ones) can make a world of difference, and I think that’s partly why this book hit so close to home for me. From the friend break-ups to the family make-ups, and feeling like the weight of all of your different worlds is on your shoulders, Izzy is such a relatable character, and an overall pleasure to meet.

How to Build a Heart was exactly what I needed back then, and honestly, it was a good reminder for where (and who) I am now. At first, Izzy’s school life and home life are completely separate, and she goes to great lengths to keep it that way. But then, everything changes when she takes hit after hit after hit, and I think that like Izzy, a lot of us would scramble to keep ourselves from imploding under the weight of it all; her new (and very eager) friend Aubrey just happens to be the little sister of Sam, who also doubles as Roz’s (Izzy’s best friend) longtime crush. On top of that, Izzy, her mother, and her little brother Jack may be selected for a new house, a real house, offered by Habitat for Humanity, but of course no one from school can know that the Crawfords are a charity case. On top of all of that, Izzy has to juggle the growing feelings for Sam (and the guilt that comes with it), the growing pressure from the Habitat people for their story to be publicized, and deciding who gets to know the real her, which is only getting harder with all the secrets she keeps.

While the story follows Izzy and her journey towards avoiding a full on trainwreck, one of her main hurdles is herself. She has a bad relationship with luck (it’s given to people who don’t deserve it, and taken from people who already have nothing), and in a word, it’s unreliable. Being raised by a single mom after losing her dad, Izzy sometimes forgets that life can give, not just take, and while she doesn’t let herself hope for things, she makes it her responsibility to be the buffer for Jack to protect his hope.

Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres

Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Okay, y’all. The friendship between Roz and Izzy??? *chefs kiss* x1000! Roz deals with some issues of her own, but she also doesn’t let that stop her from enjoying what comes out of life. In addition to being a tough mf, she tells it how it is, and doesn’t let Izzy off the hook easily – Roz challenges Izzy to let herself become exactly who she is. But I loved how complicated (i.e. real) their relationship is. For starters, Mami has a set of rules for Izzy that only apply to Roz, and not to mention the whole deal with Sam. But one of the most interesting layers to their relationship is that Roz is a part of “mobile park home Izzy”, not “St. V’s Izzy,” so what happens when Izzy slowly gets more caught up in between the two?

One of the many moments that required tissues and lots of blankets was Mami’s crab story. In a bucket full of crabs, one will always try to escape but the others drag it down, and if they were smart, they could make a chain and they’d all be able to escape – Mami wants to make sure that Izzy doesn’t let herself be dragged back down. On one hand, how much damage could we really do to each other? But on the other, how much good could we do? Izzy and Roz live this reality and I have so much admiration for both of them. It’s not just about friends and a guy, but about friends and each other, and each adapting to the changes happening in both their lives. As a growing young “adult,” this is an art I’m still trying to master.

Overall, I really loved how full How to Build a Heart made me feel. There were so many nuanced mentions of race given that Izzy is half Puerto Rican, and she battles the prejudiced views of her own family. Something that I really appreciated was that Mami deals with it all as graceful as possible, even going so far as to say, “I don’t use that word. It’s too simple. Calling people racist makes it easy to lump them together and label them all bad. Prejudice is more complicated than that.” The world isn’t black and white, and nothing exists in a vacuum; race and all of its derivatives (i.e. racism) are socially constructed, but that is not to say that its effects aren’t real. To explain further would take a whole encyclopedia, but the main point is that racism comes in different forms, and affects people differently. In short, go take a sociology class (or ask for sociology book recs) and don’t be racist (: Mami gets it.

One of my only critiques is that I wish there were conversations with Sam that felt more resolved, which is the main reason it’s not a full five for me. But despite that, How to Build a Heart was such a great story that I’ll definitely be rereading, full of warmth (and a leather jacket for Roz) and all the struggles that come with finding (or building) your way home.

I’m so excited for you all to read this book! If you do, come back here and let me know what you thought! Coming Jan. 28, you can find How to Build a Heart at the following links.

Book Depository | AbeBooks | Better World Books

Build up your heart (and your shelf) with this one. Much love,

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