Whenever I read one of Beth Kephart’s books, I feel so humbled by her talent that I’m reticent about using my own words to describe my feelings about her books. For here is a writer whose novels read like poetry, who uses words like pixels to create stunning photographs in the mind, who builds her characters from pieces of her own heart and lovingly offers them to the reader. The Heart is Not a Size is just such a book, and one in which Beth offers us another in her series of strong, seeking young women trying to understand their place in the world and the workings of their hearts.
Georgia and her best friend Riley travel with a group of teenagers from their homes in suburban Pennsylvania to a tiny village called Anapra, in Juarez, Mexico, where they will help build a bathroom for this tiny community. Georgia’s reasons for going on this trip aren’t entirely altruistic – she’s hoping the trip will make her strong, help her relinquish the desperate need to perfectly control her life that has resulted in frightening panic attacks. “I have a habit of piling things on and wanting things to be perfect and going out of my way to make things harder than they are,” Georgia thinks. ” It’s not that I’m running toward success so much as trying to keep my big wide feet off the heartbreak path of failure.”
Now, I’m nearly old enough to be Georgia’s grandmother, but that sentence strikes mighty close to home for me. The Heart is Not a Size is marketed for young adults, but the lessons Georgia learns are just as applicable to those of us long past that designation. How easy it is for me to “pile things on,” to want them all to be perfect, and to send myself into fits of panic when I can’t make it so. How rarely do I “risk delight,” instead “seeing mostly black in a world filled with so much white.”
The village of Anapra is a lesson in itself. The book was inspired by a trip Beth took in 2005 with her own son and a group from church, where she was struck by the heat, and the dust, and the poverty, but also by the children. “To me,” Beth said in an interview, “Juarez will always also be the children who welcomed us with open arms in a squatters’ village—who burst upon dust streets in dresses so rose-red, so violet, so white.”
Reading Beth’s books and her blog are a delight I’m never shy to risk. I think her stories are a gift to young women, who aren’t given much media encouragement to delve into the deeper recesses of their thoughts and emotions or reflect on their place in the wider world.
A gift straight from the heart.