Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart

The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart
244 pages
copyright 2010

People disappear, go missing, vanish without a trace.

It happens everyday, in communities big and small, rich and poor, around the corner and across the globe. Sometimes we're unaware of this, and sometimes we know exactly what we don't want to - or are afraid to - admit to ourselves and to others. It is then that this knowledge takes hold, becomes suffocating, too much for hearts to bear.

Such is the case with Georgia, the teenage narrator of Beth Kephart's exquisite new novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, set amid the stifling heat of Juarez, Mexico. There, in the community of Anapra, exists the ghosts of las muertas de Juarez ("the dead women of Juarez"), this horrible true-life phenomenon that has been occurring for years where women routinely disappear and are found (when they are found) murdered and often disfigured.

Learning of las muertas de Juarez and the conditions there doesn't stop Georgia from being called to be of service to that community, to want to give of herself to better the lives of others through a service project.

"The muertas stories were always right there in my research on Juarez, near as a mouse click. They always made me sadder than I can say - not being afraid of Juarez, but sad for Juarez, full of some big desire to do something that would make things better for the ones the murders left behind." (pg. 22)

Georgia encourages her best friend Riley to come along on the trip to Juarez, which Riley does despite the objections and prejudices of her overbearing, over-Botoxed mother.  The result is a trip that changes both girls, as the secrets they both carry are silently brought out under the scorching Mexican sun.

"There is a silence that stumbles toward words, and silence that transcends words. The skies change, and the truth does. But right then silence was truth, the stars; silence was Drake; it was me breathing." (pg. 186)

Amid so much silence and sadness, there is also - make no mistake about it - much color and life in The Heart is Not a Size. Beth Kephart, always a master of the literary detail, infuses her novel with vibrant color. She allows her reader to see the brilliant colors of community - the children's bright clothing and smiles and laughter, the bangles of the bracelets that Riley creates for them, the splash of orange that streaks Riley's hair, the silver glow of the moonlit sky.

Perhaps because Georgia can't quite put into words the experiences she is having - physically and emotionally - Kephart gives Georgia the gift of a camera's lens, through which she captures the images of the trip in her photos. For so much happens to her in such a short time, that she somehow knows she is going to need these images to reflect on an emerging understanding about feelings and life experiences that often defy understanding.

"I was taking photograph after photograph. I was looking into the houses where the doors had been blown off, remembering the women who had never made it home, who had been taken, vanished, disappeared, never to come back to this, their home. I was thinking how too-small the houses were for grieving; how a daughter might have waited up all night, all day, all night again for a mother to return. How a sister might.  Socorro. And then what? And then how do you make the best of that? And what do you say to all the other daughters, and how do you keep your loved ones safe? How do you keep standing up when you are shaken to the bone?" (pg. 203)

In addition to being a master of capturing emotions like these and the contrast of life and death, author Beth Kephart deftly weaves a contrast of worlds for her reader. The geographical proximity of Juarez to glittering El Paso, Texas, right across the border. The privileged life of kids growing up in the mega Main Line McMansions of the Philadelphia suburbs compared to the poverty and primitive conditions faced by kids growing up in Anapra, Mexico. The spoken and the unspoken.

From reading Beth's blog (daily, for me) and hearing her words about Juarez, you know that she is passionate about this community, that its people live within her own generously abundant heart, and that perhaps this novel is her way of giving them a legacy - to let them know that they matter to her and that they are important enough to matter to many others. That by sharing their story, our hearts may also increase, stretch beyond our own limitations and boundaries, make room for one more issue amid so many other heartwrenching issues and causes in our world.  To awaken a compassion and a courage to do what we can to make a difference, to save a soul (maybe our own?) from disappearing.

The Heart is Not a Size has its own blog and Facebook page. In addition, author Beth Kephart's blog is here.

What Other Bloggers Thought:
Book Crumbs
Booking Mama
Devourer of Books
Em's Bookshelf
My Friend Amy
Read What You Know
Reading Junky
S. Krishna's Books
Word Lily

FTC disclaimer: I received The Heart is Not a Size for review via the publisher and via My Friend Amy, coordinator of an online book tour for the book.  I was not compensated in any financial way for this review and my opinions are purely my own.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too! Georgia is such a wonderful character - I became attached to her right away. Thanks for linking to my review.

Priya said...

This book is simply fabulous. :) Thanks for linking to my review!