What happens when the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Secret Keeper” is forced to let her secrets roam free?
“How to Build a Heart” by Maria Padian follows protagonist Izzy Crawford’s search for belonging. She desperately tries to keep her less-than-glamorous home life and her Catholic school life separate, but this gets difficult when her small family of her, her mother and her brother are chosen to receive a new home from Habitat for Humanity and all of the pieces she tries to push apart come crashing together.
Padian’s latest book delivers an enjoyable story about how Izzy eventually finds her place in her ever-changing world.
At a surface glance, it may appear that there are a lot of subplots going on: Izzy deals with coping with the passing of her Marine father, living essentially two separate social lives with her upper-class Catholic school friends, working through extended family drama, as well as the typical high school crush drama — all in the same book.
But it’s not totally unrealistic. These are all problems that a typical high schooler could face. Young adulthood can be a tumultuous time, and this book effectively captured the chaos that can sometimes come with being a young adult.
These individual problems and subplots all weave and intersect into each other throughout the story. Nothing seems random or out of left field. The only potential problem could be that towards the end of the book, the pacing feels rushed to tie up loose ends. Nevertheless, all of the problems Izzy faces complement one another.
Within these interconnecting problems lies one big problem: Izzy can never really find a way to fit in. Padian explores the idea of belonging, but in a nuanced way.
Izzy is half-Puerto Rican and half-white, which is an important part of her identity that is explored throughout the story, but it does not serve as the sole basis for her journey to find a sense of belonging. Izzy’s biracial status is part of the story, but not the whole story, which keeps the book away from overdone themes and makes Izzy’s overall journey more interesting.
Padian also handled the topic of Izzy’s late father, Charlie Crawford, with grace. When including a dead character as an important element of a story, it can be easy to infodump every detail about this character all at once. But Padian does not do that.
Details about Izzy’s father are introduced throughout the story in moments where Izzy would realistically be reminded of her father. It feels like the reader is reminiscing about Izzy’s father with her, which reads better than being force-fed information about a character we’ve never met.
Izzy had a supporting cast surrounding her on her journey to help her in this emotional adventure. The most glaring example of this is Aubrey Schackelton, the younger sister of her eventual love interest, Sam Shackelton.
The reader is introduced to Aubrey when she enters Izzy’s school as a new student and auditions for a capella group. Aubrey starts off as shy and awkward, but throughout the story, we start to see her come into her own as she also develops a friendship with Izzy.
The reader gets a front row seat to watch Aubrey and Izzy’s friendship develop for a while — until Izzy and Sam get together. After that, it feels like the reader only gets mere flashes of Aubrey throughout the rest of the novel.
Izzy and Aubrey’s friendship could have been explored more. Additionally, Aubrey felt like a much more compelling and developed character than her love-interest brother.
Overall, “How to Build a Heart” was an enjoyable read. Not the best book I’ve picked up, but it had some heart (no pun intended) to it, and that’s more than some stories can say.