“TWO WEEKS THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE,” promises a flyer at the local grocery store. Change is just what studious Georgia—whose piled-on academic and family responsibilities have resulted in secret panic attacks—needs. She recruits petite, artistic Riley, her best friend since kindergarten, and along with nearly a dozen high school students from their Philadelphia suburb, they travel to the border town of Juárez, Mexico, to give a squatters’ village called Anapra its first bathroom.

Beth Kephart’s lyrical new book, The Heart Is Not a Size, describes the community’s joyous interest in the Americans, their camaraderie and their survival amid poverty, harsh desert conditions and the increasing number of haunting, unsolved muertas—murders of young women and teens. Kephart’s gentle storytelling captures Georgia’s concerns, her “fuzzy collisions of optimism and despair,” as she tries to shoulder the burden of responsibility and confront the truth about Riley’s escalating eating disorder at the expense of their friendship.

Georgia’s secrets are also revealed with the help of fellow group member Drake, a privileged yet compassionate teen who shares her enthusiasm for the poet Jack Gilbert. While it takes the combined efforts of their team to transform the village, she discovers that one person can make a difference when it comes to friendship. Inspired by a trip the author took with family and church members to Anapra, The Heart Is Not a Size will encourage teens to open their hearts (no matter the size) in their relationships and give back to the Earth and its residents.

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