The Bookslut review of The Heart is Not a Size

Monday, June 7, 2010

Colleen Mondor isn't just the force behind Chasing Ray, and she isn't just an author in her own right.  She is also a Bookslut reviewer—writing, for the rest of us, some of the most thoughtful reviews around.  I spoke, at the Book Blogger Convention, about reviews that writers learn from.  I learned so much from these words about The Heart is Not a Size that I have reprinted them in full, hoping that Bookslut and Colleen don't mind.  Colleen gives me cause (gives me strength) to continue to fight for a place for stories for "the quiet ones out there."  That can be an enervating fight, a struggle that can at times threaten to overwhelm a writer like me.  It is also an endeavor with enormous rewards.  I am so grateful, Colleen, for your words.

From the review (and please follow the link for all of the reviews in Colleen's remarkable column this month, titled, "No Laughing Matter.")

Sometimes being a teenager is not just hard, it’s scary. Here is a stack of books about how serious the teen years can be, and why our younger selves deserve a lot more empathy then most adults are willing to give.

Beth Kephart is a National Book Award nominee who, in recent years, has been creating a name for herself as the writer who slices through the dramatics of teen life, and dwells instead on the quiet wonderment and worry of being a girl. While she does not neglect that age-old struggle to fit in, or defiantly embrace outsider status, her stories are much less about what everyone else wants and thinks, and instead look at the seriousness of being an individual. Her girls must find their way, and more often than not, that means letting go of what others hope and want for them. These are worrying girls, concerned girls, girls who want to do the right thing for everybody, but all too often find they cannot, because, after all, no one can. That is when Kephart’s girls grow up, and when readers who are just like them discover their own paths forward as well.

In The Heart Is Not a Size, Kephart introduces Georgia, who has a very nice family; a fun, creative best friend in Riley; and academic achievements that make college an obvious choice. She also is being bodyslammed by panic attacks that defy all efforts at control. Georgia is losing her grip, and because she is holding on so tightly to her own worries, she cannot reach out to Riley, who is literally (and figuratively) losing herself.

In a desperate bid for authenticity, Georgia urges Riley to sign up with a group of volunteers who are traveling to Juarez, Mexico, to build a community washroom. It is, she thinks, the ultimate opportunity to gain “release from the narrow outlines of my life.” Georgia is half convinced she is going crazy, but doesn’t know how to stop the rollercoaster her achievement-oriented life has become. With a little arm twisting, Riley is along for the ride, which Georgia thinks is a good thing. Maybe Juarez will be a way for her to save her friend also, or at the very least, to force Riley to admit what she is doing to herself.
A lot of stuff happens in Mexico as the group of teens and adults embarks on their Habitat for Humanity-like project. The girls have a falling out, make new friends, test their own abilities and then, just as you knew it would, there is a colossal frightening moment as Riley falls to pieces. Riley, however, as charming as she is, isn't the point of the story. Heart is about Georgia and what she can do to change her world. Consider what she is carrying around:
Your responsible, solid version is what everybody comments on: Georgia’s reliable, Georgia will do it. Georgia always knows what she is doing. She will come through. Your private, hidden self, meanwhile, would shout a different story.
With references to everyone from Pablo Neruda to Cormac McCarthy to the poet Jack Gilbert, The Heart Is Not a Size is Beth Kephart asserting yet again that great drama resides in the quietest of lives. So carefully, so elegantly, she brings a mature literary sensibility to the teenage world. Her books are objects of both beauty and worth; small things, like the young girls who populate them, that nonetheless carry great value. For all the quiet ones out there, she is not to be missed.

5 comments:

Beth F said...

I'll have to come back to this review. I try to avoid reading reviews of books that I will review myself -- I want my ideas to be own and I don't want to be influenced by others before I have a chance to record my own thoughts.

Solvang Sherrie said...

What a great review - and so deserving. This is my favorite book of yours so far.

Mandy said...

I love Colleen's reviews.

a. fortis said...

It's a lovely review. I can't wait to read it! Unfortunately, my library doesn't have it yet, but I *do* have some Amazon credit...hmmm...some book shopping may be in my near future.

holly cupala said...

Yes. That is a wonderful review, Beth. Just wonderful.

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