Monday, April 20, 2009

If I'd read this book when I was a teenager: How to Build a House

It's okay if you didn't love Juno. (I know, after everyone started loving Juno, loving Juno was no longer the thing. No movie is THAT good, including Slumdog Millionaire, except maybe Rebel Without a Cause, which lives up to and generally exceeds its reputation.) But you know how in Juno, amid all the patter (smart and funny or annoying, depending on your point of view), there are these moments when you're like "yeah, that's what it's like"? Like when Michael Cera's character says "Actually, I try really hard"? Those moments are all over Dana Reinhardt's How to Build a House.

I would say that I am wildly enthusiastic about this book, but then the emails about "it was good, but it wasn't THAT good" would start to come in after people read it on my recommendation.

There are too many things to run away from. There's what happened to Dad and Jane and how what happened to them happened to everybody in our family. There's Gabriel and how everything between us seems to add up to nothing. There's Tess and who she is and isn't to me anymore. There's the way I feel when I wake up in the morning in my empty house. There are the days I walk down the halls at school and I can't even hear my own footsteps. There's the space that's opened up inside me, blooming slowly, like a large black flower.

It isn't all angst, though.

I hate country music so much that I considered not coming to Tennesee. Homes from the Heart has other summer programs for teens. There's one in Guatemala. But I haven't heard enough Guatemalan music to know if I hate it or not.

Really, the book is both deeper and funnier than either of those quotes. I just don't want to give anything away.

My favorite thing about this is the authenticity of the summer program. The characters are real; some of the kids are cooler than Harper, and some aren't as cool, and isn't that how life really is? She forms a group of friends that are fun and realistic and funny without being quirky.

There's wisdom in this book, too. Harper learns a lot--probably more than a teenager could really expect to process on the spot--and yet it doesn't feel forced or preachy. It feels like the real conclusions Harper would have come to, given enough time.

I'll leave you with some extremely high praise: I think if I'd been able to read this book when I was a teenager, I would have been a better person.


Elizabeth said...

Wow, that IS high praise. I wonder if it will have the effect on me now? I'm kind of immature, you know.

Wendy said...

Oh, so THAT'S why you spend so much time reading kids' books. ;) Well, you can't really lose: if you haven't already learned the life lessons, there they are...