How to Excavate a Heart

HarperTeen. Nov. 2022. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063078727.
Gr 9 Up–Shani is in Washington, D.C., for an internship on winter break from college with a self-assigned to-do list. On her list: live like a Jewish nun, absorb as much knowledge about paleoichthyology as possible, explore museums, avoid her mom’s texts, and try to forget about Sadie, her ex. Not on her list? Flirting with May, the cute girl she keeps running into (quite literally). However, kismet and snowstorms have other plans, and soon Shani’s crush is inescapable. With a cast of lovely supporting characters (her understanding but firm supervisor, her effusive nonagenarian landlord, her encouraging bestie), Shani opens up and takes tentative steps towards love again—and explores the psychological barriers blocking her from emotional and physical intimacy with May. The flirty enemies-to-lovers story is sweet and optimistic, but the most remarkable feat is the authentic portrayal of nervous teenagers working through their relationship anxieties. Both Shani and May are Jewish and are coded as white—it’s wonderful to see Jewish characters falling in love during Hanukkah and using Jewish references, but it would’ve been even sweeter to have the fairy tale extended to the point where Christmas is barely discussed.
VERDICT Purchase for any teen collections where romance is popular, but especially for any readers who love to read sharp banter as much as they love to swoon.

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