Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Heart is Not a Size - Book Review

The Heart is Not a Size/Beth Kephart
Harper Collins 2010
Why?  my middle child received this one for Christmas...this was one of our picks to read together...I ended up keeping the hardback and she downloaded it to her Nook-Color
Now What?  donate to the library

Golden Lines:

Apply your intelligence to every living thing.  I heard my mother and then I heard myself telling Drake that panic attacks are like wanting to run except that you can't because you are trapped inside the hole of who you are.  

Don't you dare break down, I told myself, remembering Buzzby's class and Longwood Gardens, the night before Juarez.  Don't you dare.  And now I was running - kicking up dust in the face of the dogs, which made the dogs run, too, close at my heels, yipping.  If they'd come any closer, they'd have had my ankles in the teeth, my shoelaces, something.  But, I wasn't letting them get any closer.  I wasn't letting anything else get in my way, not the dogs, not the dust, not myself, not the blackbird that thundered and banged in the place of my heart.

I wasn't going to be beat by panic.  Not this time.  Not one more time.


Georgia and Riley are unlikely BFFs.  Georgia is a serious, bookish thinker while Riley is more interested in her looks, the latest fashions and pleasing her immature self-centered mother.  Georgia instigates a group working trip to Juarez for the pair, helping a poverty stricken community begin to help itself.  Along with a small group of students much like themselves and a seasoned leader, the girls head to Juarez.  There they are faced with a life and surroundings much unlike their own.  Hard work, no whining and following the rules are tantamount in Juarez; there is absolutely no time for "drama."  Georgia realizes before they leave that Riley is in trouble and has to make the most difficult decision any friend ever has to make, keep the secret and pretend it's not there or face the secret head on and very possibly lose the friend in the process.  Georgia's decision is not a simple one but through the negative consequences of her choice, she is able to spend more time devoted to her own "self" rather than completely focusing on Riley.  Growing up is definitely hard to do.

My Personal Response:

I really enjoyed Sea by Heidi Kling, another of the choices for my middle daughter and I to share, so I had high expectations for this one. By the time I was 3/4 of the way done, however, I was struggling.  I even had to take a break and read something else faster. I never really "disliked" the book...but my middle child, the reluctant reader, finished this one before I did.  Now, that's sayin' something.  With 2 daughters in high school I feel myself constantly reminding them to be themselves, not what society or their group of friends expects them to be.  It's easy for a mom to say but one of the most difficult concepts for them to grasp.  After I finally finished the book and began to think about it, I realized that maybe that's what Kephart was also trying to say albeit in a non-parental know that "accidental learning" concept.  I think I unfairly read The Heart is Not a Size the same way I've read other "quick" skimming the surface.  The Heart is Not a Size is too deep for that...without the reader really realizing how deep it is.  The language, the dialogue between the students, the descriptions of their surroundings, and the Georgia's in depth analysis of herself  is real life, no vampires and no silly boy drama (not really anyway).  Kephart is indeed a very special writer. 

What I Liked:

Georgia's got herself so wrapped up in Riley that she's almost lost her individual reality...when Riley gets angry and turns her attention to another BFF, Georgia must re-focus on herself and what she herself wants out of life.  This theme was incredibly realistic...unlikely friends to begin with, the shallowness of Riley's response to Georgia's concerns, the anger and pain both girls experience and the realization that their friendship will never be quite the same...and also the realization that it's ok.

There's no perfect ending here...and there shouldn't be.  Growing up is a lifelong process, especially the part where you have to come to terms with who you are as an individual.  Georgia's self-discovery will and should continue for the rest of her life...I think this is an incredible message for young adult women who are reading this many of them seem to expect there to come a day when all problems are solved.  The End.  I'm 42 and that hasn't happened to me yet.  Life keeps changing and we have to find the strength to keep changing with it...keep on keeping on my daddy used to say.

Thank heavens there's no boyfriend drama here. I get a little tired of that silliness.  I know it's not silly to young adults but it sometimes keeps me from being able to enjoy some of the YA selections available.  I'm just not interested....again, I'm 42.  Nuff said.

What I Didn't Like:

After I first finished this book I didn't feel like there was enough development of what I thought were the major issues, anorexia and panic attacks...I even wondered why Kephart would choose to deal with both in the same short novel almost in passing...and not really develop either one.  As I began to work on this review and was considering exactly what it was about this story that I liked and the imprint this story left on my daughter, I realized I was wrong about the major issues.  I think Kephart's main theme is one of individuality and change through the developments in one's life as well as staying true to who you are.  I think the panic attacks and anorexia were used more as a sideline than major issues...which in reality I think was a strategic move in some way to say that we all have warts...of all kinds...but those warts don't define who we are.  We keep going through life and learn mechanisms for constructively dealing with those warts...even if we sometimes find ourselves slipping into destructive mode, we keep truckin' and dig ourselves out.  In other words, I think I was too busy looking at the individual trees in Kephart's forest and almost completely missed the beauty...OY.
My middle child did NOT miss the forest, however, which makes my analytic researcher brain almost want to work on  a dissertation comparing adults reading YA lit and YAs reading YA lit. 

Overall Recommendation:

My middle daughter and I both enjoyed Sea more than The Heart is Not a Size...but she uses the title/major theme of the The Heart is Not a Size as her signature line on Facbook and BBM.  Something there touched her. PERFECT.
Don't read this looking for a fast plot with an easy ending.  The Heart is Not a Size should be read with thoughtfulness...from a 42 yr. old perspective.  I didn't prime my daughter at all about this book...she got it and I didn't.   This book is definitely one for those YA readers who want something besides the standard paranormal stuff. 


  1. I have heard a lot of good things about Kephart and her books, but haven't read any of them yet. I think it's very interesting that as an adult reader there were some things about this book that your mind glossed over, while your teenage daughter perceived them straight out. It seems counter-intuitive, but I find it fascinating. Makes me want to go out and grab this book to share with my teenage daughter and compare our reactions. You wrote a superbly analytical review, and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

  2. I haven't read anything by this author, but know she is popular. Thanks for such an honest review -- I always appreciate that.

    Hope your weekend is going great as well.

  3. I really enjoyed this book and I think you got the themes just right. I'm glad to see your daughter enjoyed it.

  4. I wish I had a daughter to read fun! Just popping in to see how you are and to say hello!

  5. I read a book the other day that was like an after school special with it's subject matter (this was not a bad thing). It just made me realize that I would have enjoyed it much more as a young teen than I do as an adult. This book that you read sounds like it is similar in that respect. I am so glad that there are good books out there for the YA crowd that are not paranormal. :)

  6. Thanks, Zibilee...I'm still thinking about the differences in our responses as well...the difference in this particular case speaks well of Beth Kephart's writing I think. My middle daughter is not an avid reader...but she got it. I've been reading all my life...and I didn't...just gets more and more interesting, doesn't it? ;)

    Diane, while my oldest daughter will read just about anything, my middle daughter is very's always been a challenge to find something she likes...but a challenge I don't mind tackling...we'll definitely be reading more Kephart.

    Bermudaonion, thank goodness!

    Betsy, I bet raising a houseful of boys has its perks :) Being the only girl, they probably treat you like an angel :)

    Alyce, I too am so glad that this kind of writing is available for YA readers. I'm anxious to see if the same is true for Kephart's other books.