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
"Asapossessed of rare sweetness, humor, and inner strengthsurvives 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)
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Continuing the July YA challenge, and making a dent in the Newbery award-winning books, the latest read is an insightful 1993 honor winner titled What Hearts by Bruce Brooks.At the risk of redundancy, I've mentioned often that young adult books, including some of the later Newbery winners, are not fluff, and in fact deal with some particularly difficult life situations. This book is no exception!Young Asa's life is suddenly uprooted when he returns home on the last day of first grade to learn that the house is empty and he and his mother are moving. Leaving behind his father, whom his mother states she no longer loves, Asa's mother selfishly immediately thrusts Asa into a life with a new boyfriend and living arrangement.Lacking a transition time, precocious, sensitive Asa adjusts as best as possible. Astutely he grasps the knowledge that his new "father" is not a kind man and doesn't want the baggage of a little child.The first night, Asa is taken to an amusement park, placed on an adult ride wherein he is suspended high up in the air for a long period of time while the ride violently shakes the small child. This is the beginning of cruel taunts and actions at the hands of a man who borders on malevolence.While the subject matter is deep, there is also hope and a strong theme of spunkyness and resiliency.Segmented into four separate sections, each dealing with the meaning of love, the definition of forgiveness, the power of friendship and the ability of the human spirit to somehow transcend difficulty, this is an incredibly powerful book.Highly recommended.
The raw honesty of in the inside of Asa's head was almost too hard to read. Teenagers love that, the more masochistic the better. I imagine them eating this book up.
Asa comes home to an empty house. His mother is leaving his father and has plans to marry another man. Asa is an unusually perceptive boy who must tolerate a verbally abusive step-father, constant moving and a mother's sever decline in mental health. Asa is a bit too precocious in thought to be believable for a young child ( he goes from 6 to 13 in the book) A bit slow moving but with an important point of view for understanding a child's conception of divorce.
I DONT MEAN TO BE MEAN BUT ITS JUST CONFUSING ME. SINCE HE STARTS IN FIRST GRADE AND THEN YOU SAY NOTHING ABOUT SECOND OR THIRD GRADE ITS LIKE HE SKIPPED THEM AND YOU JUST PUT HIM IN FOURTH GRADE RIGHT AFTER FIRST GRADE. THEN OKAY HIS PARENTS GET DIVORCED AND THEN HIS MOM GETS A NEW BOYFRIEND THE SAME DAY AND YOU SAY NOTHING ABOUT A WEDDDING AND ASA CALLING HIM HIS STEPDAD.