The Heart Is Not a Size
The Heart Is Not a Size
Beth Kephart
HarperCollins, 2010
256 pp., $16.99

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Lauren Winner

Book Notes

A teen novel inspired by a church trip to Mexico.

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It is always the same when I read a new book by Beth Kephart: the prose has me hooked, gasping, by about the second paragraph. In her newest novel for teens, we get this, at the end of paragraph one: "the Third said nothing at all. The Third: He wasn't talking yet. He was all size and silence." I had no idea what that meant, who the Third was, but I had to keep reading, cast under Kephart's spell by phrasing like "He was all size and silence."

The novel is narrated by Georgia, a gracious and insightful 16-year-old, who persuades her best friend Riley to go on a trip to Juarez, Mexico, with an organization called GoodWorks. (Kephart was inspired in part by a trip sponsored by her church, St. John's Presbyterian in Devon, Pennsylvania.) Before the girls leave for the trip, Georgia mother cautions her: "Apply your intelligence to every living thing—to where you go, to how you behave, to the way that you look after Riley, because, Georgia, you will have to look after Riley. She's not as good as you are at looking after herself." Following that advice takes a profound turn when, over lunch, Georgia finally speaks her concern that Riley is not eating enough, turning into a "walking advertisement for anorexia," starving herself into order to "disprove [her] mother's theory" that she's "average." (Riley's mother is just about the polar opposite of Georgia's, of course.) Riley flips, snaps at her friend like a turtle, and then stops speaking to her, freezes her out, parades her new intimacy with another girl. This is a lovely novel about friendship, risk, and vulnerability.

P.S.: reading teens' online reviews of Kephart's books is itself interesting: for example, on The Heart Is Not a Size: "Though it is a bit on the sad side, reading it made me sigh in happiness."

Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.

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