How To Build A Heart by Maria Padian

Thank you, Algonquin for inviting me to be part of the blog tour of How to Build A Heart, by Maria Padian. For one thing, it’s been awhile since I read a YA book, and for another thing it reminded me of why I should do it more often – because it’s refreshing to read about a protagonist who is modern role model for young women.

In this case, the protagonist is 16-year-old Izzy Crawford. When we meet her, she’s living in a trailer park with her single Puerto Rican Mom (Dad fought and passed away in Iraq) and her precocious little brother. By day, she attends a new private school on scholarship with a capella group the only bring spot. By night, she and her best friend Roz, style outfits and stalk cute boys on social media. Roz lives in the trailer across the street, but she spends more time with Izzy’s struggling but loving family to escape her drunk Mom and her abusive boyfriend.

One of the boys Roz is obsessed with is Sam, her school’s basketball hero and rich teen dream. Izzy finds herself accidentally drawn into Sam’s world through his sister, and tries to not fall for this guy who not only lives in an entirely different universe but is also the object of her BFF’s affection.

When Izzy’s family is selected as a Habitat for Humanity family, her Mom is thrilled to be moving her family forward and up, and Izzy finds herself in the middle of two different worlds and trying to hide her true self from them both. Along the way, the reader follows along as Izzy faces difficult decisions, faces her family’s past and faces who she wants to be in this world.

The Final word: 16-year-old me would have loved reading Izzy’s story – but grown up me loved it, too. Very richly drawn characters and great messages.

At The Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman

On the surface. At the Edge of the Haight seems set up to be a mystery/thriller about Maddy, a homeless 20-year-old living in San Francisco who happens to witness the final seconds of a murder. And it is a mystery. But the biggest part of the story is that is pulls back the curtain on the gritty, dangerous lives of the many homeless youth who live in the shadow of the Golden Gate Park.

Maddy has cobbled together a street family of sorts, fellow teens and twenty somethings who’ve banded together to help each other survive. They follow a routine: free breakfast from the shelter, panhandle or give unsuspecting tourists tours of the Haight during the day, set up together in the park to sleep at night, roll up their possessions and try to vacate the park in the morning before the cops run them out.

One night on the way back to their designated sleeping spot, Maddy (and her constant companion, her loyal dog Root) literally stumble over the body of a dead teen. He’s been murdered and it’s fresh, so fresh Maddy spots a figure running away from the scene. A terrified Maddy tries to keep what she saw to herself – both out of fear of the fleeing suspect finding her or her distrust of the cops – but eventually the police and the dead boy’s parents discover that Maddy was there, and they bring her into the investigation.

As the cops and parents investigate, the reader gets immersed in life on the street for kids like Maddy. We wonder how did she get there? How did her friends find themselves on the street? We see them both through the eyes of tourists passing by and either pretending they’re not there; or the ones who ask if they can take their picture. Most of them drink or use drugs to endure their life. It’s gritty, and sometimes hard to read.

Little by little we get clues – both as to how the boy was killed, and how Maddy’s life led to her homeless life. The boy’s parents take an interest in Maddy, hoping to save her where they couldn’t save their son. As a reader, I wanted to save her too. And her dog. And her sweet but hapless boyfriend.

The final word: At the Edge of the Haight is a gritty, raw, slow burn of a book that is an unflinching look at life – and death — among the homeless in San Francisco.

MILK BLOOD HEAT *Book Giveaway*

It’s book giveaway time! Get a copy of MILK BLOOD HEAT by Dantiel Moniz ahead of the February 2 publication date. Just read my review (in previous post) and comment below what intrigues you and makes you want to read this amazing book (aside from the fact I just called it amazing). 🙂 Post a comment by Wednesday, January 27 at 10 p.m. and the lucky winner’s book book will be sent the next day. Thank you for visiting Buzz Girl Books and HAPPY READING! xo Liz

MILK BLOOD HEAT by Dantiel Moniz

Full disclosure: normally I’m not a big fan of story collections. But once I read praise for MILK BLOOD HEAT from the likes of Lauren Groff combined with the fact that all the stories were set in my home state of Florida (many, in fact where I live in Jacksonville), I was sold.

And I’m so glad I was, because no matter where the setting of this book it is GORGEOUS.

In this debut from writer Dantiel Moniz, the reader is dropped into lives of characters in the story as they are in the middle of important moments. Each story feels a little like literally falling from the sky and being a fly on the wall as each character faces things like depression, tragedy, family dysfunction, religion, reckoning and more.

It’s so intimate that sometimes it feels like we almost shouldn’t be there, witnessing their pain, their discovery, their very personal moments. The stories are raw, real, uplifting, redeeming and fascinating. The writing is exquisite.

The stories range from a friendship between two 13-year-olds, one white and one black that takes a turn with unexpected tragedy; a woman reeling between reality/hallucination following a miscarriage; a young girl questions her family’s faith and maybe my favorite story – two estranged siblings take a road-trip with their father’s ashes and are forced to face past issues. The common link between the stories is Florida, which to me almost serves as a background character.

Maybe I’m biased but one of the best parts of the book for me were the very accurate portrayals of the Sunshine State, in all its beauty and quirkiness. Thank so much to #NetGalley for the privilege of reading a preview of this beautiful book.