Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 17, 2010

What I’m Reading: The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart

School’s out for me, grades turned in, and I’m able to open some of the books I’ve been piling up since January, or, ahem, longer. One of the first I slipped out was Beth Kephart’s novel for teens, The Heart is Not a Size. It’s a story largely about a friendship between two girls, told through the point of view of Georgia, who calls herself “terrible at taking it easy:” and this is junior year in high school, with pressures fierce. She has brown hair and glasses, does well in school and has never kissed a boy, the girl other parents want their daughters to be friends with, embodying “what passed for safe in a hapless world.” But of course she isn’t perfect. I loved when she nodded at an instruction from her mom and noted, “it isn’t like a nod is a real promise.”

The novel published this spring is, as its title suggests, is about hearts and ways they guide us. Georgia struggles to keep still a heart that feels like a bird that wants to escape — she sometimes suffers through panic attacks – but is also large and warm. Her best friend Riley’s issues are more about size: she rarely eats these days. Partly on a whim and partly determined to get stronger, Georgia encourages her friend to join her on a student mission to a squatter’s village just outside of Juarez, Mexico. In a new place, meeting children who move her, and a quiet boy who changes the world when he sings, Georgia thrives, but Riley can’t escape problems stemming from her relationship with her mother even when they’re hundreds of miles apart.

I loved learning about Mexico, though might have liked seeing a bit more of the landscape the girls move through, because seeing anything through Beth Kephart’s eyes is a treat. One of my favorite books that she wrote for adults, which is how I came to her work, is Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self, which showcases ways she looks closely and the treasures this habit calls forth. But, of course, we’re seeing Mexico through the eyes of Georgia, and even though her mother gives her a camera before the trip, she is a teenager and she is not Beth. And quickly within the novel’s grip, I found plenty to engage me in the conversations, revelations, and rooting for people to find ways out of various kinds of pain, such as those of moments of gaping holes when former best friends can’t connect. Can even a loyal friend, a talent with color, an eagerness to give bracelets, keep Riley from falling? Can Georgia learn to be as generous to herself as she is with others?

The novel is full of both the fears and hope of being in a different country. These were girls I came to love, and I know other readers will be glad to spend time in their company, too.



  1. Okay, now I’ve got to move this up in my reading stack. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.

  2. Ooo, I’m interested in the Ghosts in the Garden book that led you to this one. I’ll have to put it on my list.
    It was great to meet you this weekend!

  3. Susan, I’m quite sure you’ll like this. And while you’re rearranging your pile, oh, why not add one more? As a poet and gardener I think you’d also love Beth’s Ghosts in the Garden, which refreshes your way of seeing. And I’m writing in comments below to Seeing Past Z, another you’d like with much to say about the writing process.

  4. Kristy, yes, it was great to write some poetry with you on Saturday!
    I think you’ll like Ghosts in the Garden. Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World is another of Beth’s books you’d like as a poet and teacher. It’s much about nourishing children, but has a lot to say to any writer with chapters on memory, reading, looking, and my favorite, “Paying Attention to Process,” in which Beth spins her childhood skating into metaphor.

  5. thank you (and a blog response)
    I so loved this and say why on my blog just now:

  6. Thanks, Jeannine! I like the looks of Ghosts in the Garden a lot!

  7. Why am I not surprised to find two of my favorite writers in dialogue…? I’ve never read Beth’s Ghosts, but I hope to now. Her fiction has a special place in my library, the waiting to re-read shelf.

  8. Oh, I’d love to see your waiting-to-reread shelf!
    Yesterday was rainy with meetings, and today there’s sun and a long chance to write. I’m happy to be on the porch again, raising a glass of iced tea to you, hoping your writing is going well.

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