Monday, April 01, 2019

MMGM- Where the Heart Is

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Knowles, Jo. Where the Heart Is
April 2nd 2019 by Candlewick
E ARC from Netgalley

Rachel's summer is not off to a good start; her parents don't remember her 13th birthday right away, and new neighbors move in across from her family's run down farm. They are very wealthy, and while Rachel is angry that their new home took away the sledding hill she always used, she is somewhat interested in a summer job taking care of their rescue animals, since it pays better and is less stressful than babysitting bratty young neighbors. She's glad of the money, since her parents seem to be struggling quite a bit. Rachel tries to be more helpful, taking care of her younger sister Ivy and trying not to complain about the lack of food in the house. She has a good friend, Micah, who has been by her side for years. Unfortunately, Micah "like" likes her, and she doesn't feel that way about Micah. In fact, after an encounter at a pool party with Evan, she is reminded that she really doesn't have any romantic feelings towards boys at all. Micah is okay with that, but angry that she kissed Evan and not him. Rachel's time is spent working on the neighbors farms and hanging out with friends, including Cybil, who seems really nice, but her mind is occupied with the increasingly unstable situation at home. When her parents finally let her know that they have to sell the house, Rachel isn't happy, but tries to make the best of the situation. Her friends rally around her, she manages to get her pony, Rainbow, placed with her neighbors, and life continues even though bad things happen.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about living in the country and farm chores, as well as the chain of circumstances that lead the family to have to sell their house and move into low income housing. Rachel's questioning of her sexual identity is lightly done, which I think is appropriate for books for middle school students. Her friendship with Micah is sweet, and her attempts at being a better sister and daughter are touching. This book moves along very quickly in an interesting way. I enjoyed this a lot.
Weaknesses: There are a couple of times where Rachel complains about details of her impoverished upbringing in a way that didn't feel authentic to me. I raised my daughters in a neighborhood where children ride beat up bicycles and shopping at the thrift store is what everyone does, and I frequently make a mean scalloped tuna and saltine casserole. Rachel's mother is an out-of-work librarian, and it just seemed to me that she would be used to these economies. Maybe it just hit a little too close to home!
What I really think: This hits that hard-to-define sweet spot of sad but hopeful books that my students enjoy. The sense of place and cover are great, and I can see this being very popular!


  1. What a thorough review! I love realistic fiction and there are so many different themes woven throughout the story. I especially enjoy reading your strengths and weaknesses. Will check this one out!

  2. This book is getting a lot of buzz. I really want to get to it soon. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Great review - I am always up for a new Knowles book so I'll look for this one.