How to Build  a Heart by Maria Padian

About the Book:

All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

How to Build a Heart is the story of Izzy’s journey to find her place in the world and her discovery that the choices we make and the people we love ultimately define us and bring us home.

Praise for Maria Padian’s How to Build a Heart


Children’s Book Council: “Hot Off the Press: February 2020”

Latinos in Publishing: “January 2020 Latinx Releases”

Kirkus Reviews: “11 Early Books We Love”

Kirkus Reviews: “16 Books We Can’t Wait For in 2020”

“A Pretty In Pink story about grief, family, class, and first love.”


“This is not a polemic about racism but an exploration of what identity means… The force of Padian’s storytelling, the pain of watching Izzy’s worlds collide, moved me to tears more than once.”

Portland Press Herald

“Padian creates a world that the reader can easily dive into. Anyone who’s ever been a self-conscious teen will see themselves in Izzy.”

Book Riot

“A balance of vivid description and witty, discerning storytelling [gives] a refreshing zeal to Izzy’s first-person narrative… Padian’s How to Build a Heart encourages us to embrace our authentic selves by letting go, not only of secrets, but of the desire to hide parts of ourselves in hopes that others will accept us.”

Cleaver Magazine

“A sensitively rendered story, but also a fun read, brisk and engaging… Padian’s book demonstrates the importance of home as a source of support and identity for teens.”


“Complex, heartrending, and beautifully explored, How to Build a Heart is a deeply poignant read that is not only deep enough to move you, but wonderfully engaging and quirky.”

The Young Folks

How to Build A Heart is, at its core, a contemporary romance. But it also strives to be more than that. It’s a story of family, friendship, and the bonds that get us through… The novel is simple, sweet, and bursting with hope.”

The Fandom

“A potent coming-of-age story about the courage often required for pulling together multiple threads of a life to create an authentic self.”


“Padian’s latest book delivers an enjoyable story about how Izzy eventually finds her place in her ever-changing world… This book effectively captured the chaos that can sometimes come with being a young adult.”

The Daily Free Press (Boston University Student Paper)

“Padian shows again and again that a story is always more complicated and more ordinary than it seems.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Padian masterfully portrays the internal struggles Izzy goes through in her Catholic faith… An absolutely enthralling depiction of family and self-discovery.”

Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Padian creates a compelling world with relatable characters and deals with serious issues without feeling heavy-handed…An excellent classroom or book discussion starter. Hand this to readers who are ready to tackle these issues with a lighter touch.”

School Library Journal

“Padian takes a familiar theme—a girl hiding her background from others—and makes it fresh with her protagonist, Izzy Crawford… The characters around her are well-defined and support Izzy and the plot well. Throughout the novel, Izzy’s strength, candor, and humanity shine through.”


My Review:


There is some racism, violence and other tough issues in this novel. 

I was intrigued by the synopsis, title and cover of How to Build a Heart. Don’t be fooled, this is not a slushy love story. What is is is a raw, realistic heartfelt and honest portrayal of a teen’s life as she comes to terms with everything it throws at her. 

Izzy loves her mother and young brother Jack, but she’s fed up of not feeling like she belongs. Her father passed away in Iraq six years ago and she lives in a trailer park. 

School is a place she’s challenged and where image is everything. She wonders if life will ever change. 

When her family is chosen for Habitat for Humanity, they have to relocate again. This time, they have to help out building their home and others’ homes. But will they find stability? Is home really where the heart is? 

How to Build a Heart is full of love, family issues and a feeling of yearning to belong. It is much more than a teen romance and is an excellent portrait of what some people have to go through to find themselves. 

Thanks to Maria Padian and Algonquin for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review. 

5 stars. 

The pacing, atmosphere and characters are all top notch and I loved this novel for how it all fit together perfectly. Maria Padian’s writing flows so well. I loved all the references to Latino culture, and speak Spanish so thought the smattering of Spanish words throughout were well-placed and carefully chosen so they made the book even more heartfelt and realistic. I really wanted some of Izzy’s “mami’s” arroz con pollo as it’s a favourite dish of mine, too. 

I don’t think there are enough books with Spanish speaking characters and I adored all the cultural references. I am half Irish and married to a Peruvian so there’s plenty of good food in our house. I really identified with the cultural references in this book and the importance of family was such a strong theme and what you have to do to keep it together. 

My First 10 Books of 2021

  1. Her Texas New Year’s Wish by Michelle Major (4 stars)
  2. Into the Woods by David Mark (4,5 stars)
  3. This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria (4 stars)
  4. What Now? by Shari Low (5 stars)
  5. The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery (4 stars)
  6. Take a Chance on Me by Beth Moran (4 stars)
  7. Stormy Days on Mulberry Lane (The Mulberry Lane series #7) by Rosie Clarke (3 stars)
  8. The Juggle by Emma Murray (5 stars)
  9. The Night we Met by Zoë Folbigg (4 stars)
  10. The Scarlet Dress by Louise Douglas (4 stars).

Today I realised I have finished my first ten books for my 2021 Goodreads challenge. They are all NetGalley Advance Review Copies (ARCs) and the information about each book is on the book’s Goodreads page.

I’ll post full reviews for the books here as I review them. So far, the first two books in the list are on my blog.