How to Build a Heart

by Maria Padian

“Every Habitat family has to give a certain number of hours working on its own or another family’s home. How many depends on the size of your house and your family, so for us, with Mami being a single parent with two kids…we need three hundred…”

“The bad news is: it’s just me. Jack’s too young. And even though relatives can pitch in, we don’t have any around. All Mami’s people are in Puerto Rico and the Crawfords are in North Carolina.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A

This book hooked me in a way that I did not anticipate. Izzy is a super likeable narrator and I love how this story deftly handled issues of race, religion, culture, poverty, and abuse with ease and tact. The resilience that many of the characters display is inspiring, but this book is not preachy in the least. I empathized with Isabella as she tried to celebrate the fact that her family would finally have a house to call their own, but recognized the shame she felt when she realized that some of the biggest donors to the house would be her new crush’s parents. Teenagers deal with so much and this book was a real look at how great dreams – of finding oneself and making sense of the world – can be exhilarating and confusing at the same time. I loved the dialogue and the characters and appreciated Izzy’s honest evaluation of herself and her willingness to be honest with those around her even if it was not easy (and took some prompting). Great book for fans of YA realistic fiction, romance or cultural identity books.

Movie Rating: PG

This book has no noticeable swearing and no steamy scenes, but it dives into issues of domestic violence and foster care which might make this a better fit for older readers. The characters have honest conversations and this book breaks down racism and poverty with some frank discussions that come across as insightful but not preachy. Religion is featured prominently, but this is not a religious book – Mami’s Puerto Rican Catholicism influences Izzy who attends the local catholic school and also catches glimpses of her paternal grandmother’s hypocritical protestant views. There is a discussion about addiction, but it is from a character who recognizes the slippery slope of teen partying and is in recovery. There are no objectionable scenes – this book was an easy read with just enough drama to keep it intriguing.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes!

How to Build a Heart is a treat! This book is thoughtful, engaging, relevant, and I don’t have to worry about my students reading a great story laced with profanities or inappropriate scenes. This book is intellectually stimulating without being too heavy to engage students. Maria Padian has crafted a novel that is worth every penny and makes a great read for a school book club!

This book is hard to categorize, but such a treat to read. Isabella is a teen on the verge of adulthood and in the midst of finding herself. Her dad, a Marine, passed away six years while serving, leaving Mami, Izzy, and Jack on the verge of poverty and moving around for jobs and affordable housing.

Izzy finally has a school she loves, a best friend who understands her, and the hope that things can be better when Mami gets news that the family was selected for a new Habitat for Humanity house. The dream of owning their own house will finally be realized; unfortunately, their new house will be right next to her best friend’s crush who happens to be Izzy’s new crush and the brother of her new classmate. How can Izzy find herself and help her family build a new life without losing hope for her life right now? This book has a little bit of everything – realistic fiction, romance, drama – but is such a great story that readers of all backgrounds are sure to find themselves wrapped up in it.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. How do you think Izzy would describe herself? How does this pop up within the story?
  2. What does the house mean for Izzy’s family? Why does she refuse to be part of the newsletter?
  3. What does Izzy learn about her future neighbors and their view of the Habitat Houses? How does she end up breaking the news to Sam about her situation?
  4. What does Izzy learn at the Crawford reunion and how does this influence what she tells her grandmother?
  5. What happens to Roz the day before the move in? How does this change the relationship between Izzy and Roz and how is Mark involved in the resolution?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • The Sun is Also a Star
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  • Where the Crawdads Sing
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