Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Review: The Heart Is Not A Size by Beth Kephart

The Heart Is Not A Size
by Beth Kephart
ISBN: 978-0-385-34124-0
Pages: 337
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher: Georgia knows what it means to keep secrets. She knows how to ignore things. She knows that some things are better left unsaid. . . . Or are they?
When Georgia and her best friend, Riley, travel along with nine other suburban Pennsylvania kids to Anapra, a squatters' village in the heat-flattened border city of Juarez, Mexico, secrets seem to percolate and threaten both a friendship and a life. Certainties unravel. Reality changes. And Georgia is left to figure out who she is outside the world she's always known.
Beth Kephart paints a world filled with emotion, longing, and the hot Mexican sun.

My Thoughts: The Heart Is Not A Size is a beautifully written story about one young woman's struggle to be responsible for her life and become the person she wants to be. Georgia, at seventeen, is discovering that growing up is an exciting but confusing and sometimes, frightening process. She wants to do the right thing but she's realizing that sometimes the choice isn't easy to make, especially when it will hurt someone she loves. Riley, one of the most important people in Georgia's life, is her best friend Georgia knows Riley's in trouble and needs help. She wants to be loyal to Riley but also be responsible to herself, to others, and do the right thing..

Georgia struggles to be the perfect daughter, sister, best friend, student: in other words, the perfect human being. Everybody has always been able to trust Georgia to do the right thing and be responsible. Georgia puts more pressure on herself than anyone else ever would which, at times, has adverse effects. Concerns about her brother Kevin, about college and especially about her best friend, Riley, keep her up nights. Did she ask for these responsibilities? Does she want them? What about what she wants and needs?

Georgia's loyalty, in fact, may not be the best thing for Riley right now, but how can she betray her? It's difficult to come to terms with the idea that doing the right things may sometimes mean hurting someone you love. Keeping Riley's secrets and being loyal conflicts with Georgia's sense of right and wrong. How to balance the two troubles her. Figuring things out in this community that knows her so well and expects her to be responsible doesn't feel possible, and as a result, Georgia feels trapped and stymied. She's counting on the journey to Juarez, a very different place from where she's grown up, to help her sort out her thoughts, figure out who she is and wants to be and what she needs to do.

Juarez is a mixture of beauty, sadness, happiness and despair. There, Georgia experiences a harsh, painful reality and realizes that life back home in Pennsylvania is not all there is and things in her life will soon change. Georgia repeats to herself the advice her mother gave her shortly before she left for Juarez "Apply your intelligence to every living thing-to where you go, to how you behave, to the way that you look after Riley because, Georgia, you will have to look after Riley. She's not as good as you are at looking after herself." (p.110). In Juarez, Georgia begins to understand things more clearly as she comes into her own as a person, recognizing that she, too, is a beautiful and talented human being worthy of attention. Georgia allows her mother's voice to guide her as she embraces her responsibility to herself and others and becomes the young woman she's meant to be and always wanted to be.

Beth Kephart created an amazing character in Georgia, narrator of The Heart is Not A Size, and the reason the book works so well. Georgia is insightful, smart, thoughtful, responsible, trustworthy, a worrier and an over-achiever. She's so focused on making sure other people are happy and taken care of that she's forgotten about her own needs. I think many women can see a little bit of themselves in Georgia as she wrestles with her loyalty to Riley versus caring for her and figuring out the right thing to do. I know I do! Georgia is familiar to me but she's more worldly, more aware of the opportunities available to her as well as the value of taking advantage of them. Georgia reminds me of those long-ago days of high school when my small world seemed so important and every decision monumental. I really enjoyed following Georgia on this difficult and beautiful emotional journey as she discovers who she is and wants to be.

The Heart Is Not A Size is the first of Beth Kephart's books I've read but it will not be the last. Since I finished it, I've found myself going back again and again to re-read passages. Kephart's writing is beautiful, the imagery so vivid you can almost see it before you. Her writing is so clear and intuitive, there's an immediate connection and understanding of what Kephart is saying. By way of example:

"I needed stars and moon and night air, so I walked-worrying about women I'd never know; thinking about all that can't be changed or controlled; trying to envision Juarez, this place of complications and contradictions, where perfect, I pretty quickly figured out, wasn't the issue: Survival was. Survival under a hot sun, along a tired river, among factory jobs that paid hardly enough to sustain a family, and also among unsolved murders and loss. (p.23)

"Panic, I'm telling you, begins in the heart. Panic is big buzzard wings banging wretched and trapped against the bones of your ribs, knocking your wind-pipe loose, swiping your logic. Panic makes you stupid when you have to be smart. It makes you stop in your tracks when what you must do right there is run. (p.42)

This is a beautifully written book with a simple but important story to tell about growing up, figuring out who you are, what you want to be and facing and managing the pressures and responsibilities that are linked to the choices we make. I would recommend this book to women of all ages as well as to the parents of young girls and young women. Beth Kephart’s book is invaluable in providing an understanding of the struggles young women experience as they grow into the people they want to and are meant to be.

I won a copy of The Heart Is Not A Size from Nicole at Linus' Blanket.
Visit Beth Kephart's website here.


  1. I am glad you liked this one. I just read my first Beth book, Nothing But Ghosts (loved it), and will be reading this one soon. Great review Amy!

  2. Boy have I misjudged this book by it's cover--which, incidentally, I never fully looked at. All I've ever noticed was the hands and the heart and thought it was just a sweet little romance. Sounds like one I could read and share with my 15yo.

  3. Beth Kephart is in a category of her own. Even though she is YA, she does not talk down to the reader, but embraces them and delivers a huge message in few pages. I have a mission to read everything she has written.

  4. NISE': Thank you! I've hear great things about Nothing But Ghosts and it's on my list to read! I'm very taken with this author & look forward to her other books!

    LISA: I think this would be a great book to share with your 15-year old. The cover is a little misleading but be rest assured this is far from a sweet little romance. It's a fantastic book. I'd love to hear what you and your daughter think of it!

    SANDY: Great description, Sandy. Beth's love for young people is evident in her writing. She celebrates their lives and understands their struggles. I think many adults could learn a lot from reading Beth's books.

  5. Another glowing review of a Kephart book! Now I'm really going to have to read one. I don't want to be left out of all the fun. ;)