How To Build A Heart

“People love to talk about themselves, and if you keep directing the conversation and questions back to them, they leave the interaction with the impression you’re the absolute best. Even though you haven’t told them a damn thing.”

Izzy Crawford is a master of deflection. She lives in a mobile home but attends a wealthy school. On scholarship of course. A fact she works hard to hide. That and where she lives. What her mom does for a living. Anything and everything to simply try and fit in. But when her mom applies for a Habitat For Humanity home, and they become the chosen family, all the carefully constructed illusions Izzy has worked so hard to maintain, threaten to all come unraveled.

“I’d been hiding for a long time. Behind my school uniforms, behind complicated car pool plans, my borrowed clothes, all the stories I made up in every new town we called home.”

Izzy is such a wonderful character! She is real. She is honest. She is deliciously complex. I adored her from the very beginning.

I think most teenagers feel out of place in one way or another. Family, religion, friends. Who society wants you to be while trying to wrap your hands around who you want to be. It’s a simmering stew of hormones and confusion that no teenager is immune to. And Maria Padian captures this tempest of adolescence beautifully.

We are introduced to Izzy and her separation of worlds in a deliberate and layered way. First we meet Roz, her neighbor, but through her friendship with Roz, we also get glimpses of her Mami. How she doesn’t approve of Roz, but this isn’t a shallow teenager rolling her eyes at the disapproval. Padian instead makes it a compelling introduction to Izzy’s interracial, Catholic family.

“She always doles out her wisdom–and warnings–in Spanish. Even though she knows my Spanish sucks.”

It’s easy sometimes to present a teen as rebellious, or even embarrassed by their parents or family, the reality is usually far more complex. Yes, embarrassment, shame, even outright mortification are common emotions for most teens in regards to family. But there is also love, understanding, and empathy wrapped in these same emotions. Izzy brings all of these complicated and conflicting thoughts to life in a very real, very relatable way.

Even more than an emotional, personal journey with Izzy, Padian expands this story to embrace the larger realities of the world we live in. The Habitat For Humanity plot line, interracial marriage, and complicated family dynamics. Even the contrast between wealth and poverty. They are personal to Izzy, allowing the reader to view these topics from an intimate perspective, opening the door for meaningful examination. It encourages engagement, not judgment, allowing mistakes to be viewed as learning opportunities, which again, simply opens dialogue in a phenomenal way.

There are heavy topics brought up and explored in this book. Race, culture, class, abuse. They’re all handled in an unflinching yet gentle way. It isn’t there for shock, but because this is how Izzy’s life is. I think so many teens will find aspects of Izzy’s story relatable, in part, in full and that’s what makes this book so good. How To Build A Heart is a book to open conversations. It’s a book of examination and reflection. It encourages dialogue and isn’t afraid to be the complex contradiction every person actually is.

How To Build A Heart is a wonderful tapestry of a story. Which makes sense, since the author herself said she modeled it after her own “crazy quilt of a family.” I’m reluctant to get into too many details of who I loved and why. This story unravels so beautifully, that it’s an experience I don’t want to ruin with my own thoughts or opinions. Roz and Aubrey, Sam and Mark. Betts and Jack. Mami and Izzy. The journey Izzy goes on, both internally and with every individual in her life, is just so damn good. I cannot recommend it enthusiastically enough!

Thank you Algonquin Young Readers for including me on this blog tour and sending me a review copy of this amazing book. How To Build A Heart is available now.

About the Author

Maria Padian has a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and a master’s degree from the University of Virginia. She is a freelance writer, essayist, and author of young adult novels, including Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress, Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best, and Out of Nowhere. Maria lives with her family in Brunswick, Maine. Visit her online at and find her on Twitter: @mpadian.   

HOW TO BUILD A HEART by Maria Padian

Algonquin Young Readers | Ages 12-18 | ISBN: 9781616208493 | On sale: January 28, 2020 | 256 pages

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