Life is tough. That’s what 13-year-old Rachel is learning. She loves her parents and (mostly) her little sister Ivy. She loves the farm where they live, even if it is a bit rundown. And she loves her best friend Micah. But things in her life are changing, and she’s not sure she’s ready.
For one, the kids from school are changing. Instead of just hanging out together and being friends, they are starting to become couples. Micah wants them to be a couple, but Rachel is confused. She wishes it were that easy, that she could have feelings for her best friend and start dating like the rest of the kids in her class. But she just doesn’t feel that way, and maybe she’s not really ready to feel that way about anyone. That makes her worry that her friends, and especially Micah, are going to move forward and leave her behind. Everything about the situation makes Rachel feel sad and confused and lonely.
As if that wasn’t enough, her parents have been fighting a lot lately, and almost always about money. Rachel wished she could do more to help out. She has a summer job on the farm across the street, taking care of a handful of animals during the week. She feeds the two horses and the mean pig Lucy who seems to hate her, she gathers eggs and feeds the chickens, and she feeds the young cow Ferdinand and walks him around the field. She enjoys her time with the animals but also wishes she could do more to help her family.
As the summer passes by, Rachel learns that despite the changes that life brings, friendship and family are forever. And while you may think of a place as home, home can also be something more, something you can carry with you wherever you go and whoever you choose to become.
Where the Heart Is is a moving, powerful, touching story of a teenager’s struggle with the circumstances of life and how they influence our choices. As she discovers her identity as a friend, as a big sister, as a daughter, and as a young woman, Rachel struggles honestly with anxiety, sadness, and loss. Jo Knowles’ middle grade novel of loss and hope is a bittersweet tale of losing almost everything but finding yourself.
This is a difficult book and not for all kids. It deals with some mature themes, such as poverty and the fluidity of gender roles and sexuality. It can also be a lovely teaching tool about those same issues for young readers who are ready to tackle such topics. Where the Heart Is is compassionate and powerful, personal and universal, and bitter and sweet.
Galleys for Where the Heart Is were provided by Candlewick Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.