Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles - mini book review

Publisher’s Synopsis: "It’s the first day of summer and Rachel's thirteenth birthday. She can't wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. With all the heart of her award-winning novel See You At Harry's, Jo Knowles brings us the story of a girl who must discover where her heart is and what that means for her future."

My Two Cents: Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is a solidly written realistic tale told from the viewpoint of a young girl struggling to figure out her own sexuality against the backdrop of her parent’s financial struggle. Typical middle grade feelings , worries, and even some joys fill the pages. Many tweens will find this a good read and appreciate the writer's firm grasp of middle grade concerns. Where the Heart Is is rightfully getting lots of good bibliophile buzz.

That being said, and in relation to my work with striving readers, the plotting is a bit slow, with action based in parent whispers and summer beach-going friendships waverings. Readers looking for a faster-paced or more emotionally reaching wallop might struggle to engage. Best recommended for individual selection, rather than whole class reading, purchase for libraries and literature circles.

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Tween
Date: April, 2019
Thank You to Library Thing and Candlewick Press for my advanced copy

Themes: Growing Up, Family Love, Friendship Love, First Love, Financial Security. Could have been a much deeper story. Reads more like a beachy, summer fun tale than the deep themes it disguises. Possibly kudos to the writer on that front.
Character Development: Characters are well drawn, Sisters have the most fleshed-out relationship, Parents relationship seems one sided (narrator viewpoint only),
Plot: Young tween’s family loses their home while she struggles with her blossoming sexuality, probably more for girls than boys, causing rift between her male best friend who has feelings for her
Believability: Anchored in real life and internal monologue, with the protagonist carrying the weight of the novel, Where the Heart Is is a realistic example of a typical tween viewpoint.
Diversity: Girl liking a girl adds some diversity, characters mostly present as Caucasian. One concern I had was the female protagonist’s embarrassment at the possibility of liking a girl is never fully developed. This is a great theme to run with and it simply IS without excavating the WHY of the embarrassment.

Sorry, this is a mini book review so not much in the way of teaching resources, but you can find a teacher's discussion guide: HERE 

You can read more about author Jo Knowles on her website: HERE

You can buy Where the Heart Is HERE

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© 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com