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What Hearts

What Hearts

2.5 2
by Bruce Brooks

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Recipient of a 1993 Newbery Honor, this novel is an achingly beautiful, powerfully rendered journey through childhood that is not to be missed, now available in a new edition with a striking new cover.

"From an outstandingly perceptive writer, a moving portrait of a boy, observed at four revealing turning points." — Pointer Review/Kirkus


Recipient of a 1993 Newbery Honor, this novel is an achingly beautiful, powerfully rendered journey through childhood that is not to be missed, now available in a new edition with a striking new cover.

"From an outstandingly perceptive writer, a moving portrait of a boy, observed at four revealing turning points." — Pointer Review/Kirkus Reviews

"Combines fast, exciting action with an astonishing ending that proves the power of the individual imagination." — Starred Review/ALA Booklist

"Asa—possessed of rare sweetness, humor, and inner strength—survives intact cruel tests of his integrity, intellect, and sense of decency. From an outstandingly perceptive writer, a moving portrait of a boy, observed at four revealing turning points." —K. "Told with controlled imagery, insightful illumination of motive and the needs of his characters, Brooks has proven himself once again a master of language." —BL.

1993 Newbery Honor Book Notable Children's Books of 1993 (ALA)
1993 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)
1993 Fanfare Honor List (The Horn Book)
1993 Teachers' Choices (IRA)
1993 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library)

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
The hero of Brook's story is growing up in a home burdened with child and alcohol abuse and breakdowns. The family configuration is non-traditional and so is the child, who is intellectually bright and a genius at survival. The importance of strong stories is that they are creative ways to tell children the truth about their troubled world.
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Asa is followed from the age of seven to twelve in four interwoven stories that focus on baseball, first love, and family tenderness and tension. As in his previous The Moves Make the Man, Brooks blends fine sportswriting with a keen insight into the human heart-a skill recognized with Newbery Honors for both books.
Hazel Rochman
Brooks tells a good story, and he makes the telling part of the tale. Many of the themes found in his earlier books, like "The Moves Make the Man" , are developed in these four long stories about the boy Asa, especially the child's relationship with his emotionally fragile mother and his hostile competition with his stepfather. Asa's seven years old in the first story when he rushes home to show off his great report card--only to find that his mother and he are leaving his father. They move seven times in the next three years. Like all of Brooks' protagonists, the kid is smart and sensitive and trying to stay in control as he grows older. Just when he irritates you the most with his deliberate analyzing and overarticulate view of what's happening to him, something upsets all his careful order, and his fragility grabs your heart. In the unforgettable first story, his stepfather-to-be forces the seven-year-old boy onto a solitary roller coaster ride; and the surreal images of jerking and whirling out of control--the terror and the thrill--recur throughout the book in dark, mysterious counterpoint to Asa's shining intelligence. These are sophisticated, perhaps adult, stories. As in "Midnight Hour Encores" , Brooks deliberately plays with formula and then shocks you out of it, whether it's a seventh-grader's declaration of love or a male bonding on the baseball field. The sports story, in which the stepfather helps Asa train for the Little League tryouts, combines fast, exciting action with scenes of domestic stress and gentleness as well as an astonishing ending that proves the power of the individual imagination. Always, that's what gets Asa through yet another disturbing upheaval, the order he finds through words.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Asa was amazed that he left first grade with so much stuff. As he ran down the winding tar path that led through the woods to the street, he took a quick inventory: his knapsack, straining at its straps, held a blank blue composition book and three unsharpened yellow pencils (for a summer journal; everyone had gotten these), a battered hardback copy of a book called The Little Prince (no one else had received this; the librarian had slipped it in secret to "my best little reader"), a mimeographed copy of the school handbook complete with all kinds of forms to be brought in on the first day of second grade in September (everyone, of course), six certificates stamped with foil medallions (one for completing the dumb first-grade reader with its "See Spot jump!" stories, one for being able to print the alphabet in upper and lower case, one for being able to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "You're a Grand Old Flag," all of which everyone got, even Gordon Firestone, who never got the words right to the latter song and still couldn't tell the difference between small "d" and "b," "g" and "q"; the other three were from gym class, for being able to run and jump and roll (some boys had gotten more than the three, but they were show-offs); a big, glossy black-and-white photograph of the whole class (for everyone, even the two kids who had missed school on the day the picture was taken; Asa had been sick with a bad cold himself, but his parents had made him come for the picture, in which he was the only child wearing a jacket and tie); and, finally, a report card. Everyone had gotten a report card too, even Ronnie Wells, though the word was that he would have torepeat the year.

Everyone had gotten one, a sky-blue cardboard report card with six boxes on it for final grades written in heavy black ink, grades for the whole year, grades summing up everything the kid had done; everything-but only Asa's card held an A in each box, sharply drawn, lined up like six pointed missiles blasting off into a perfect future. Perfect! He was perfect, and he was the only one.

Subtly, under the guise of friendly interest, he had checked: he had seen everyone else's card except Ronnie's (poor Ronnie could be fairly disregarded), and they all had at least one B. Rita Pennington had been closest; only her crinkly left-handed handwriting had kept her from sharing the pinnacle with Asa. He had a crush on Rita, but he was glad she had gotten a B in Penmanship. This made him ashamed, but there it was. Besides, she had won the lottery for the class hamster, so no one should feel too sorry for her.

In addition to the treasures in his pack Asa clutched one more in his right hand: a bunch of fresh, hand-planted, hand-watered, hand-weeded, hand-picked radishes. He looked at them quickly; they were not believable. Nothing could become that color underground. Such a red had to be made by craft; surely it would take scientists, geniuses, to design the proper chemical sequence! Asa had chosen to plant radishes in the class garden when the first graders had pored over seed packets in February, simply because he did not believe they would come true.

Today, just this morning, everyone had been allowed to undo all the work that had gone into keeping the vegetables hidden in the ground: they ripped their things out, shook the brown clods off them, and almost cried with revelation. Really: everyone, not just Asa, almost cried. The long orange carrots had been a hit, but the radishes stole the show. No one else had wanted to plant them, because they had all been thinking about eating what they grew. Asa had been thinking about growing what he grew, as an end in itself. But tonight he and his dad and his mom would all eat this wonderful redness. He was triumphant.

As he approached the crosswalk, he worked one of his thirty-one radishes free from the tangle of greens and knobs, so that he could give it to Nadine, the policewoman whom he had seen twice a day through kindergarten and first grade, who had given him his first nickname ("Well hey, Ace-how you this morning?"), who allowed him his first joke of pretend mockery ("Fine, Captain-you caught any criminals yet?"). He stepped into the crosswalk.

Before Nadine could greet him, he held out a radish to her. She drew her chin back to focus on it and shook her head. "No, I don't love a radish. Thank you all the same, Ace." She looked beyond him, wheeling her arm at a slowpoke. Asa was perplexed by the idea of not loving a radish, but he went on as he walked, turning backward so he could face her: "I got straight A's, Captain. For the year."

"You have a nice summer," she said, and went to help a kindergartner who was about to cry pick up a splaying fan of papers he had dropped. Asa hesitated, then turned back around toward home and kept walking.

Well, maybe Bobby Levy would be more interested in what Asa had to share. In two minutes he would pass beneath the balcony on which Bobby always perched, only two feet off the uphill-slanting sidewalk but high enough to look down from. Bobby's private school dismissed a half hour earlier than the public school, and Bobby spent that extra time watching TV. He made a point of waiting for Asa every afternoon with the blue-silver rectangle of a television set shining deep in the dark room behind him, implying pointedly the thirty minutes of fun Asa had missed by being so unwisely unprivate. During the thirty seconds in which Asa, walking resignedly uphill, was within the range of Bobby's voice, Bobby, glib as a squirrel, always managed to chatter out a snappy summary of the rerun of I Love Lucy or The Real McCoys just for him. The summaries were remarkably clear, and Asa silently admired them even as he reminded himself that he disliked television comedies.

What Hearts. Copyright © by Bruce Brooks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Bruce Brooks was born in Virginia and began writing fiction at age ten. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and from the University Of Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1980. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, newsletter editor, movie critic, teacher and lecturer.

Bruce Brooks has twice received the Newbery Honor, first in 1985 for Moves Make the Man, and again in 1992 for What Hearts. He is also the author of Everywhere, Midnight Hour Encores, Asylum for Nightface, Vanishing, and Throwing Smoke. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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