Review of Where the Heart Is

Where the Heart Is
by Jo Knowles
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    294 pp.    g
4/19    978-1-5362-0003-4    $16.99

On Rachel’s thirteenth birthday, new neighbors move in, affluent dilettante “farmers” who engage her, at minimum wage, to look after their animals while they’re away during the week. She comes to love the menagerie, even Lucy, the surly pig destined for the butcher. In the meantime, her parents’ money troubles have them worried and quarrelsome, which worries her little sister in turn. And then there’s Micah, her forever best friend who struggles with his romantic feelings for her, even though she has told him she doesn’t think she likes boys; and Cybil, whose attention makes Rachel excited and confused. An inevitable climax has everything going wrong at once: the family loses their beloved house, Micah won’t return her texts, and Lucy the pig is slaughtered. The novel keeps a tight focus on time and place — all the action happens within the range of a bike ride, in the first few weeks of summer — magnifying the intensity of Rachel’s circumstances and her emotional response. Knowles handles Rachel’s evolving feelings about her sexual orientation with particular nuance: Rachel’s concerns center on her own comfort and sense of self rather than worries about how her identity might be perceived, offering readers an exemplar that is compelling and fresh. The world is foisting a great deal on Rachel in a singular moment, and her responses are believable and affecting. This is one of those rare novels that feels less like a constructed story and more like a momentary glimpse into a real young life — genuine, stirring, and raw.

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess is Youth Services Manager for the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington State.

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