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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*How to Build a House* by Dana Reinhardt- young adult book review
Also by Dana Reinhardt:

The Summer I Learned to Fly

The Things a Brother Knows

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life

How to Build a House
by Dana Reinhardt
Grades 10+ 240 pages Wendy Lamb Books May 2008 Hardcover    

Harper Evans is almost eighteen, and her world has collapsed around her.

When her father and stepmother, Jane, suddenly and inexplicably divorce, the only mom who Harper has ever known moves out of her life. Worse, Harper’s best friend and stepsister, Tess, leaves with Jane and refuses to even visit the home in which they’ve grown up together.

When her family crashes and burns, Harper turns to her long-time friend (who happens to be a boy) Gabriel for comfort. Their relationship, which has been undefined for years, suddenly becomes sexual but not necessarily intimate, and not necessarily exclusive – at least, not as far as Gabriel is concerned.

The chaos in her emotional life drives Harper to do something extraordinarily compassionate: she joins a group of teenagers who have come from all over the county to help build a house in Bailey, Tennessee. This isn’t just any house, either. It will replace the one lost during an F4 tornado that destroyed many houses and many lives in the close-knit Southern town.

Harper may not be able to put her own house in order, but she’s determined to help the Wright family rebuild their home and move forward with their lives. Throughout the sultry Tennessee summer, Harper grapples with power tools and family dynamics as she tries to build a shelter that will survive any storm.

The evolving family relationships are revealed gradually, interspersed with Harper’s house-building experience and her budding friendships with the other members of the Homes for the Heart program. As the summer progresses, so does Harper’s understanding of the inevitability of change – houses are built, destroyed, and rebuilt; families are formed, grow apart, and remake themselves in a new fashion; friends become lovers, sometimes forever and sometimes only for a season.

Harper is an admirable protagonist in many ways - mature, thoughtful, kind, responsible. Author Dana Reinhardt paints Harper with subtle strokes, bringing her to life with a skill that few writers ever manage to master. Harper is surrounded by equally complex characters who, just like the characters in our real lives, are always a turbulent blend of opposites. Reinhardt writes with respect for the young people who are struggling to understand their roles as well as for the adults who aren’t as wise or infallible as they’d like to be.

Reinhardt received rave reviews and multiple awards for her earlier books, and How to Build a House is destined to follow that same path. One caveat: most of the characters in this book are sexually active but, while they show great common sense in most situations, the author fails to mention whether they are practicing safe sex. Harper is depicted as a responsible young woman with a passion for environmental protection, so surely personal protection must be of concern to her, as well.

In spite of that one oversight, How to Build a House is an elegant and moving novel, full of the sort of painful lessons that ultimately lead Harper to a better understanding of herself. Never heavy-handed, Reinhardt’s balance of entertainment and insight make this an engrossing and enlightening read.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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