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Review of Sweeping Up the Heart

Sweeping Up the Heart
by Kevin Henkes
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    184 pp.    g
3/19    978-0-06-285254-0    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-06-285255-7    $17.89
e-book ed.  978-0-06-285257-1    $9.99

The elegiac spirit of Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Bustle in a House” (from which this book’s title is taken) reverberates throughout Henkes’s story of people struggling to cope with love, loss, change, and human frailty. Twelve-year-old Amelia Albright is dreading her upcoming spring-break week (the novel’s time frame) at home in Madison, Wisconsin. Her best friend is away for the year, and her melancholic and withdrawn father has rejected the idea of a Florida vacation. With encouragement from their loving housekeeper, Amelia seeks solace at the local clay studio where she has been going since she was six. She meets and befriends the studio owner’s visiting nephew, Casey, whose parents are busy working on their marriage. Casey desperately wants his parents to stay together; meanwhile, the loss of Amelia’s mother, who died of cancer when she was two, still hangs heavily over her. (“Can you be lonely for someone you never knew?”) When they encounter a woman who looks like Amelia’s mother, the friends begin to imagine the impossible, making this woman’s actual identity, when discovered, all the harder to process. In that confusing space between childhood and adulthood, Amelia finds comfort in talking to her beloved stuffed lamb even as she experiences her first crush and wonders “what kind of woman she would be when she grew up.” The week’s cheerlessness morphs into something complex and important as new people enter Amelia’s world, enabling her to better understand herself and those she loves, and to move forward “into whatever was still to come.”

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Roach About Julie Roach

Julie Roach manages youth services at the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts. She also teaches children’s literature at Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science and at Lesley University.

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