Sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford is struggling to survive being a teenager. She’s definitely got some unique challenges: a dead Iraq War vet father, days spent scraping by and living with her mother and little brother in a trailer park, and trying to fit in at a wealthy private school. Things get more complicated when she falls for her best friend’s crush and tries to keep her new friends from learning out that her family will be receiving a Habitat for Humanity home.
There were some aspects of this novel that felt pretty familiar (girl from the wrong side of the tracks falls for rich boy), but there were enough unique elements that this felt like a fresh YA story. I loved Izzy’s heritage – her mother is Puerto Rican and speaks Spanish (although Izzy does not) and her father was a white man from the South. Izzy struggles to truly accept where she comes from and tries her best to blend in, which creates an interesting road for character development. I also really loved the many diverse characters in this book – they all felt really fleshed out (even some of the more minor ones), so the book felt full of captivating people who all teach Izzy some important lessons.
Aside from predictability, there was just one style issue that bugged me. Each chapter skips ahead a little bit in time and then the author goes back and explains what happened in the meantime. It felt like too many steps forward and then backtracking to offer important information to the reader. I think I would have preferred a more straightforward, chronological storytelling structure.
Overall, I loved that Izzy was able to learn and grow by the end of the book. This makes her feel utterly relatable and totally human. I would recommend “How to Build a Heart” to anyone who enjoys YA books, but especially to young readers who are struggling to fit in at school or are just facing the hardships that come with being a teenager. Izzy is a great example of someone with clear goals and a good heart.
*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review*