ARC Review: How To Build a Heart by Maria Padian

Title: How to Build a Heart
Author: Maria Padian
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Hardcover, 352 Pages
Publication Date: January 28th, 2020


Summary: 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.

I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review, after a conversation got sparked on Twitter and we found out that we actually have a mutual connection based on the college I attend! I thought that was pretty cool, and then when I found out Maria was a YA author, I knew that I definitely wanted to read some of her work. When she sent me How To Build a Heart, I was elated, because the story sounded like just the kind of YA contemporary that I really enjoyed. Thankfully, my hunch was right, so without further ado, let's get into my review:

As the summary explains, Izzy is finally getting settled after her family's recent move, always bouncing from town to town with her mother and brother, still reeling after the tragic death of her father in the Marines. Izzy starts to feel like her life is really coming together -- she has a crush, some good friends, a spot in her school's super competitive a cappella group....but she manages to keep her scholarship student status a secret, and her best from the trailer park is nowhere near her preppy school friends. And then her family is chosen for Habitat for Humanity, which is a major win for them, but that also involves her community knowing about her family's struggles. The balancing act doesn't last for long, and when Izzy's lives threaten to cross over into each other, she isn't sure how she's going to handle it. And what ensues is definitely interesting, that's for sure! 

I really enjoyed reading this book! Maria Padian is an excellent writer, so I found myself being sucked into the story immediately. This book is almost 350 pages, and I managed to finish the entire thing in just two days, because I found myself picking it up every chance I get. I even walked around campus with this book in front of my face while I was heading to class and the library and places to pick up dinner, and it's a miracle I didn't trip and fall flat on my face. I was so just so invested in the story and I loved it! Seeing the way Izzy tried to juggle her lives and keep her paths from crossing (while having the nagging suspicion that somehow things wouldn't stay so separate for much longer) really kept me invested because I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. Seriously, I read over 150 pages in one sitting because this book was just so great that I didn't want to put it down!

Something that I really loved about this book was the wide variety of characters, actually. Everyone on the page was so different, and they all had their own unique little quirks and habits and ways of talking, and they just seemed so thoroughly fleshed out and they all seemed to serve a purpose on the page. It might just be the English major in me talking, but I always found it very frustrating when there were characters in a story that were very clearly thrown there just to serve a plot point, so they felt very two-dimensional. However, there's absolutely none of that in this book, because everyone feels so fleshed out and real that I could see them being people I bumped into at the supermarket or on the street somewhere. I really loved that aspect of the story!

My favorite character in this book was actually Mami. Even though there were times that she was really strict and it felt like she was being really hard on Izzy, it was clear how much she loved her kids and how much she had given up for them and all the hard things she would continue to do for them. She seemed like such a wise, confident, caring woman, and I really appreciated her throughout the whole book, even at times when Izzy didn't. It's not very often that I find the mom figure in a book being one of my favorite characters (I don't actually know why that is, actually), but the fact that my favorite character in the story was someone as resilient, brave, protective, and loving as Rita was definitely a plus for me.

However, the character that I had the hardest time getting along with as a reader was definitely Roz. I get that her life was supposed to be difficult and a bit messy as a way of "messing up" Izzy's perfect facade that she was trying to craft, but I feel like at times she was just really catty and downright mean. (Spoilers incoming, so skip to the next paragraph to avoid them!) I also kinda didn't love the fact that at the end of the story, Izzy and Roz just become instant friends again without actually really talking much out. What Izzy's mom said about cutting out people that drag you down and are harmful to you was something really important, and even though I agree with Mark that Roz wasn't dragging Izzy down in terms of her image or anything like that, there were times when she was a pretty mean friend to Izzy, and that all seems to get brushed under the rug. I'm not saying forgiveness isn't possible, because it absolutely is, but there are some things that need to be brought to light and thoroughly talked out before taking back someone who hurt you so badly. I don't know, that's just my own personal opinion -- but that's also who I am as a person when it comes to "cutting out" people in my life. If they're willing to work on things and talk it out, then I'll cooperate, but people that don't take any hard steps to rectify their actions aren't usually people I want to continue being super-BFFs with. But again, that's just my own personal take on it, and if you disagree, that's completely okay! (And please tell me your reasons in the comments, because I'd love to hear other opinions on this!)

Overall, I really enjoyed reading How To Build a Heart. I think it was a super heartwarming, emotional tale of moving on after loss, settling into a new life, and finding a way to bridge your past and your future in ways that you may not have thought were possible before. Maria Padian is an excellent writer, and it took no time at all for me to fall into her story. I'm super glad that I was given this ARC in exchange for an honest review, and it's safe to say that I'll definitely be reading more of her work in the future!



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