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The Heart Is Not a Size

The Heart Is Not a Size

5.0 1
by Beth Kephart

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
Nuanced characterizations and lyrical writing distinguish Beth Kephart's oeuvre, including this third YA novel…[a] sensitive exploration of self-acceptance, friendship and teen-galvanized social change.
—The Washington Post
VOYA - Ed Goldberg
Kephart pits external versus internal demons for her tale set in Anapra, Mexico, an arid, one-room tin/cardboard-hut colonia on the outskirts of Juarez that is prone to dust storms and las muertas de Juarez, girls who disappear. Georgia and Riley are two Pennsylvania teens, the former, plain, responsible and subject to debilitating panic attacks and the latter her very artistic best friend whose rich, fashionable mother considers her merely average. Riley will prove her mother wrong by starving herself. When the girls join nine other teens for a two week Goodworks excursion to build a community bathroom in Anapra, the two worlds come together. The hopefulness of a people with nothing, dressing their children in bright colors and treasuring what little they have is contrasted with two girls who have everything yet are in need. As Georgia watches Riley waste away, "seeing her bones through her skin," she can no longer remain the silent friend, regardless of the consequences. Kephart's prose is typically poetic. She pens a faster-paced novel that explores teens' inner selves. Their hearts go out to the Anapra people, their children, and five-year-old Socorro searching for her missing sister's spirit. Georgia and Riley must overcome their inner conflicts in order to survive. The writing is vivid, enabling readers to visualize Anapra's desolation and hope. They will feel the dust storms and will relate to the teens. A side benefit is that this must-read author also introduces lesser-known but eloquent poets. Reviewer: Ed Goldberg
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman fears losing her best friend to anorexia even as she convinces her to join a volunteer work trip to Juarez, Mexico, in this tender but uneven novel. Georgia, terrified by the panic attacks she has begun to experience, sells her supportive family and her troubled friend, Riley, on the idea of the two-week trip. Soon after they arrive, though, Georgia is no longer able to continue downplaying her concern about Riley's ever-shrinking body, which causes a deep rift between the two. Kephart employs a sparser, less adorned style of writing than in some of her earlier novels (such as Undercover, 2007), which suits this serious story fine. However, the deeply foreboding prologue sets a grim tone that is not borne out by the conclusion, making the novel feel somehow unbalanced. Georgia and Riley are strong characters, but many of the others seem less developed. Still, readers with an affinity for realistic tales of friendships will appreciate this story and recognize the honesty in both the girls' struggle and their reluctance to address painful experiences. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Publishers Weekly
Seventeen-year-old best friends Georgia and Riley plan to make a difference in the world their junior year by joining the GoodWorks team, a group of teenagers heading to Mexico to do community service. In Anapra, a small village outside Juárez, the girls find the heat nearly unbearable and the work—building a public bathroom for villagers—grueling. Observant, reliable Georgia is able to find beauty in the landscape and in the people she meets; however, she worries that Riley, who refuses to eat and is already “thin as a sunbeam,” suffers from anorexia, which drives a wedge between the girls. Themes of friendship, service, and transformation are skillfully woven into Kephart's (Nothing but Ghosts) novel, but the overall message feels ambiguous. More focused and memorable are Georgia's descriptions of characters (“I was looking at Drake and seeing moons in his eyes, and seeing the ruin in the moons in those eyes...”) and observations (“Do the right thing, you risk ruin. Choose responsibility, and don't think that makes you someone's hero”), which make for lovely, poetic reading. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“[Kephart] has penned a faster paced novel that explores our inner selves...The writing is vivid. Readers will visualize Anapra’s desolation and hope. They will feel the dust storms. They will relate to the teens...Beth Kephart is a must read YA author.”
Children's Literature - Michele C. Hughes
When a close friend grows dangerously thinner by the day, all the while projecting that she does not want to talk about it, it is hard to summon the courage to confront her. Yet this is what hyper-responsible Georgia must do if she is going to help save Riley from the insecurities that drive her to anorexia. To add to the intensity of Georgia's dilemma, the girls are currently in Juarez, Mexico a part of a group of teens working on a short-term community improvement project. Far from home and in a different culture, the girls must face not only the painful conflict that arises from Georgia's eventual confrontation of Riley, but also the realities of what life is like in impoverished rural Mexico. Physical labor exacerbates Riley's weakness, and a dramatic collapse makes her issue apparent to others. In the end, it is clear there is no easy road to health for Riley, and it is going to take supportive friends and family to help her recover. The strength of this novel is its unflinching look at anorexia, poverty, and the risks true friends take for each other. Georgia is mature and intelligent but not boring; despite the way Riley struggles with her demons, she still comes across as effervescent, creative, and magnetic. With beautiful imagery and language, the story speaks to the transformative power of stepping outside oneself to a cross-cultural outreach. Georgia's reflective narration ensures that the reader grows along with her on this journey. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In this novel best suited for contemplative teen readers, narrator Georgia, who is sturdy and studious, and Riley, wispy and artistic, have been friends since kindergarten in their Main Line Pennsylvania town. Winter break of junior year, Georgia learns of a summer service trip to Juarez, Mexico, talks her parents into letting her go, and pulls Riley into her plan. The latter two-thirds of the tale take place on the Good Works trip itself, as the characters slip past a boundary between the before and the after, highlighting the transformative power of such a mission. Riley has been whittling herself smaller and smaller to break the "average" mold her pampered and Botoxed mother has cast around her; and when Georgia notices that she is eating nothing while doing hard physical labor under a blazing sun, she breaks the code of silence and their friendship when she uses the A-word: anorexia. Riley turns away from Georgia, and Georgia turns to snapping photos of the people and landscape of their project: to construct a community bathroom for Anapra, a tin-roofed shanty town for border factory-assembly workers and their families. Georgia also watches and coaxes out of silence Drake, a boy as introspective as she, while she waits to see if Riley will come back to their friendship and acknowledge her eating disorder. Lyrically and philosophically written, the story is more message than compelling story-driven fiction. It's not likely to hook or hold most readers.—Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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File size:
322 KB
Age Range:
13 Years

Meet the Author

Beth Kephart was nominated for a National Book Award for her memoir A Slant of Sun. Her first novel for teens, Undercover, received four starred reviews and was named a Best Book by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and Amazon.com. In 2005 Beth was awarded the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She has also written Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter; Still Love in Strange Places: A Memoir; Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self; Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River; Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business; and House of Dance. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

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Heart Is Not a Size 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Beth Kephart fans are not going to be happy with this review. Don't get me wrong, the book is terrific, but it isn't scheduled for release until the end of March 2010. It is definitely worth waiting for, though, so put it on your wish list. It seems that more and more one hears about teens going on work experience trips to underprivileged countries. There always seem to be fund-raisers going on and pledge drives to send someone or other off to help build houses or clean up after a flood or earthquake or hurricane. Beth Kephart uses one such trip as the backdrop for THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE. Georgia convinces her parents to let her travel with a group to Juarez, Mexico, to help improve life for those living in a devastatingly poor area of the border town. Despite the poor living conditions and threats to personal safety, Georgia believes she can make a difference. Leaving behind her comfortable life in Pennsylvania, she spends her time under the hot Mexican sun building, of all things, a community toilet for the local natives. Going along for the experience is Georgia's best friend, Riley. Giving up the comforts of home are harder on Riley, who enjoys shopping and looking her best at whetever she does. Georgia knows she'll be able to handle the heat and the hard physical labor, but she has her doubts about Riley. There's been something bothering her about her best friend, but she hasn't been able to confront her. Georgia knows that Riley is constantly striving to live up to her mother's high expectations. In an effort to please her mother, Riley seems to have stopped eating. Georgia knows what is going on but doesn't know how to deal with the problem. She has hopes that the time together will give her an opportunity to rescue her friend. Kephart's writing simply flows as she explores the emotions of friendship, the tragedy of poverty, and the importance of giving. Readers will easily relate to Georgia as she struggles to help a friend and finds it more difficult than she dreamed.