How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian
Isabella Crawford leads a double life. At home she is the daughter of her white father, a Marine killed in action and her Puerto Rican mother, who ekes out a living as a nurse's aide, moving her family from place to place.
Now the family resides in Virginia where Izzy has received a scholarship to attend a prestigious Catholic high school and sing with the school's premier vocal group. She has her father’s green eyes and can "pass" at school, borrowing clothing from her best friend to supplement her meager wardrobe. She informs classmates that her mother is a nurse.
"I’ve been hiding for a long time. Behind my school uniforms, behind my complicated car pool plans, my borrowed clothes, all the stories I made up in every new town we called home."
Isabella's life undergoes a dramatic shift when her family is selected receive a brand new Habitat for Humanity home. The house will be built in an affluent section of town. Izzy befriends Aubrey, a transfer student who lives near the Crawford’s new home. To further complicate matters, Aubrey's good-looking brother and co-captain of the local school’s basketball team is attracted to Izzy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain her elite-private-school-student facade.
Padian paints a realistic picture of this bicultural, biracial teen. It is easy to empathize with Izzy. She makes mistakes, misjudges. She also takes risks. The narrative is punctuated with Spanish phrases succinctly conveying ideas and emotions in a manner that the English language cannot.
How to Build a Heart: a story overflowing with a generous quantity of heart. "Oh, mija. Te quiero."