The Heart is Not a Size is a book that will make you want to go out in the world and do something that matters. It will take you into a community that you likely will never visit, and it will make you think about how much you have and what you really need. No surprise that the writer behind this inspiring and thought-provoking novel is Beth Kephart. It’s not released until March 2010, but you should put it on your TBR list right now. Books like this don’t come along every day.
The Heart is Not a Size was inspired by a trip Beth took a few years ago to a squatter’s village called Anapra, near Juarez, in Mexico. Like the characters in her novel, she went there with a church group of teens and adults, to build a community washroom. Her experiences led to this story. First, take a look at some photos Beth took in this short video, where she reads from the novel:
It’s a testament to the strength of Beth’s writing that her words brought to mind so much of what you see in those images – the openness of the children and their smiling faces, the dust everywhere, the shacks made of cast off materials. I’ve never been anywhere like Anapra, but I could imagine it through Beth’s words. The Heart is Not a Size is about a teen named Georgia, who convinces her best friend Riley to go on a trip to Anapra with an organization called Good Works to do community service. Georgia wants to go to Anapra to get perspective and to start believing in herself. Everyone thinks she’s a grounded, reliable sort of girl, and Georgia isn’t sure. She’s ready for something, but she isn’t even sure what that something is. So when she finds a flyer about Anapra she makes a choice and she wants Riley to come too. Riley is vulnerable in her own way, and the girls’ friendship is deep and complicated. When they get to Anapra, things that they used to be certain about start to change.
The Heart is Not a Size would stand up to rereading, so that you could feel you were getting everything out of it. It’s a quiet book that sneaks up on you. You’ll meet so many characters that are complex and present enough to make you imagine their whole life stories – even secondary characters who appear only briefly stand out more than many central characters in other novels, like Socorro, the little girl who hovers outside the compound where the visiting group is living. The novel is divided into two parts, which I think reflects the way Georgia’s experiences in Anapra have really changed her. There was her life before Anapra, and then after. This is a novel about the potential in people, and not just in the people who go to Anapra to do what they can to contribute to that community, but the potential and worth of the residents of Anapra as well. Almost at the end of her time in Anapra, Georgia thinks, “there was no measure for the people we were becoming, no limit to what we might become.” She sees the possibility of her own life and the lives of the people of Anapra too. The Heart is Not a Size is a novel worth thinking about. There is nothing moralizing about it. Rather, the characters experience first hand how life is messy and brutal and beautiful and the opposite of simple. Georgia doesn’t find easy answers in Anapra and we don’t get the sense that she finds just what she expected, but her experience gave her what she needed nonetheless. Give this book to a teen as a graduation gift. I wish I’d been able to read it when I was 18.
The Heart is Not a Size will be published by Harper Teen in March 2010.