How to Build a Heart

Algonquin. Jan. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616208493.
Gr 8 Up–Izzy Crawford is a girl of many secrets. Her wealthy Catholic school friends don’t know that she’s a scholarship kid from a nearby trailer park. Her mom doesn’t know that she and her best friend Roz spend their afternoons stalking Roz’s crush, Sam Shackleton, and when Sam’s sister joins Izzy’s a cappella group, Izzy keeps it a secret from Roz. But when Izzy’s family is selected to receive a house from Habitat for Humanity, each element of Izzy’s carefully distanced world starts to collide, and the weight of her secrets threatens to overwhelm her. As in Wrecked, Padian creates a compelling world with relatable characters and deals with serious issues without feeling heavy-handed. Izzy navigates issues of racism, classism, and cyberbullying, even within her own family. Her family frequently helps Roz to escape her abusive home life, and Izzy also helps Aubrey Shackleton overcome depression following a cyberbullying incident. This may seem like a lot of topics to tackle in one story, but they’re handled organically and with care, each given the weight that it deserves. If the Shackletons feel a bit too perfect and the ending a bit too pat, readers won’t mind because they’re hard-earned by the struggles that Izzy and her family overcome.
VERDICT An excellent classroom or book discussion starter. Hand this to readers who are ready to tackle these issues with a lighter touch.

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