This one is one you just wouldn’t see unless you spent a little time on Meg Cabot’s blog (which, I’ve yet to read one of her books but wow, her blog was a lot of fun and makes me want to!).
Does it at all look familiar to you? Now it’s funny because the cover I’ll post below is one I’ve scratched my head at again and again wondering if it had a double take somewhere.
Either way, I like the cover a lot. Both the purple and pink are vibrant against the black and, well, the cover’s memorable!
If you remember my review for Marcelo in the Real World, you’ll know that I had a hard time with the book because I didn’t know the intended audience. For me, intended audience makes a huge difference whether a title is a hit or a miss.
How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt is one of the books on this year’s Read for a Lifetime list. It’s a concept I think a lot of teen relate to. Harper’s family in Los Angeles is in disarray, and rather than allow herself to be saddened by it all summer, she decides to join a non-religious non-profit program that would allow her to involve herself in a summer-long community service project. More specifically, she’s going to help rebuild a house in Bailey, Tennessee that was destroyed in a major tornado. As someone who’s actually done exactly this, I was so intrigued by the idea and know there are a lot of other people who would love reading about this.
Harper’s dad and step mother are getting a divorce, which is tearing apart the family Harper came to believe was so great. Her sister through the marriage, Tess, was her best friend. Jane, her step mom, was the mother she never had. Things were perfect until her father tore the family apart through an extramarital affair. Harper turned to her best friend Gabriel, who also happened to be a guy she really had a lot of feelings for, and they were mutual feelings. At least that’s what she thought until she saw who Gabriel was kissing one night at a party.
Getting out made sense. And Bailey, Tennessee, was the perfect place to hid out. She’s never going to be known here, and she has no reasons to make any ties. This is the ideal summer project. Oh, and this is also the perfect way for Harper to feel like she’s giving back to the earth us humans are ruining through global warning. Why else would Katrina happen and why else would more and more tornadoes keep happening and destroying people’s lives?
Sure, she’s building a house, but she ends up finding romance with one of the members of the family who will be receiving the house when it’s done.
While How to Build a House sounds sweet and relatable, I found it fell flat on a lot of levels. First, I thought the metaphor was far too obvious and far too drawn out. Yes, the family fell apart like a tornado tore apart the house and it takes team work and communication to rebuild both. Oh, yeah, don’t forget that through team work and communication we can also stop global warming. It was just far. too. much.
I found Harper to be a smug main character. She seems bitter the entire time she’s on the trip, and she’s the one who chose to go. Her discussion of Christian and country music got so irritating because she thought she was so above both of them — and I thought that reiteration of Christian ideas as “bad” was irritating. I’m not sure that’s what Reinhardt intended, but if it was, I don’t think it hit the nail right on nor will the right audience get it. And if it’s not the intention, this is going to turn off many, many readers.
Perhaps my real issue was that this is targeted at the wrong audience. Teens aren’t going to buy this metaphor because it literally hits them far too hard over the head. I almost felt this a bit insulting to the reader. It could have been more smoothly woven or more interestingly developed. The smugness of Harper won’t resonate with readers who just aren’t going to give her a chance. Additionally, while it’s clear no one has a perfect family, I think the “broken family” trope has exhausted its opportunities in the teen lit world, and this is not breaking down any additional barriers. Maybe readers will relate to the sister/best friend relationship.
That said, I think this is a good read for adult audiences looking for something sentimental. That’s not to say this isn’t a worthwhile book; it’s just mismarketed. Even with Harper, the protagonist, as a teenager, I think adults will connect with the idea more because their ideas and ideals of family are more mature. This is the sort of book they can read and reflect upon and really feel connected to. There are a lot of moral ideas discussed here that will resonate with them. The story moves slow, and the metaphor will mean more to those who have literally built a family from the foundation, to the room, to the storm shelter. I don’t think teens can really relate to that.
Overall, I think teens will find some enjoyment in the idea of reaching outside oneself to help others in need, but beyond that, they may find the topic and metaphor overworked and underdeveloped. But handing this one to fans of family-centric or relationship-centric adult titles might be the perfect way to introduce readers to some of the stuff out there marketed for teens that really appeal to adults on a different level.
This double take courtesy of reader Terry from Nevada.
I think a number of us are familiar with this (frequently challenged) book:
I dig this cover. I can’t get a date on it, but the original hardcover book was published in May 2004 by Henry Holt and Company. The coloring and style is more approachable than the original, I think. Alas. It sure looks familiar!
I think both covers fit the books, so it’s impossible to say who did it better. I can say, though, I like this cover much better than the original one for Doing It. What about you?
I like when authors share their tales of inspiration. It’s something I wonder about a lot — just how did someone get it in their head to write about a certain topic? When I write, it’s because I have an idea in my head and I want to play with it on paper to make sense of it. I think this is how many others are, and Jo Knowles explains that that was her inspiration for writing Jumping Off Swings.
Jumping Off Swings (2009) explores one teen’s pregnancy from four perspectives. There’s Ellie, the girl who is pregnant; Josh, the soon-to-be father; Caleb, the boy who’s always had a sweet spot for Ellie; and Corinne, Ellie’s best friend.
The book begins with Josh and Ellie having one night together. It was a game for Josh, who’s keeping tabs with his jerk friends, and for Ellie, it was a way to be accepted. Unfortunately, Ellie discovers three months later she’s going to be living with the consequences for many years to come. And Josh? When he finds out, he unravels emotionally to the point of needing to take his life in an entirely different direction than he planned on.
Corinne is the ever-present and strong friend for Ellie — she is there for her from day one, defending Ellie. And Caleb is also the best friend either of them can have, as is his mother, who becomes a very valuable and trustworthy adult for these teens during this tumultuous year. As the story progresses, it’s interesting to see how all of the relationships grow and change.
The use of multiple perspectives often makes me nervous. It’s very difficult to capture multiple voices well, but Knowles does a masterful job of making very individual characters. We get to see and understand each character’s perspective well enough to really feel for them, but we don’t find out too much that the topic gets dried out. With the deluge of teen pregnancy books out there, I think this one stands out for this reason.
This was a very quick read. Jumping Off Swings is sparse on details, focusing more on the cerebral elements and development of each character. It’s one that will resonate with so many readers because it does give insight into more than just the “girl with the problem.” Teens will find themselves as the Corinne who has to be the friend for someone in trouble, Caleb who has to come to grips with his feelings toward Ellie and toward his friend Josh, and Josh who has to come to grips with what it’s like to make a mistake and then be unable find a suitable resolution. It doesn’t matter this is a book about teen pregnancy. This is one to hand to teens who find themselves in any number of difficult situations.