The Heart Is Not A Size by Beth Kephart

Trustworthy and responsible Georgia, and sensitive and artistic Riley, have been best friends ever since grade school. Georgia, at a point in her life of deep and soulful searching, spots an advertisement on a bulletin board for a summer service trip to Juarez, Mexico, and just feels in her bones that she and Riley have to go. After Georgia manages to convince their parents of the necessity and the safety of the trip, the girls embark on a journey that is both outside their comfort zone, but also in exactly the place that each needs to be in order to begin facing their own safe existences which are fraught with their own kinds of very real peril.

This was my first experience reading a book by Beth Kephart and with as much as I had heard of her, I wondered whether her books could really live up to the hype. The bar was set very high.  She is the loveliest of people, but would I love her book? I started to read The Heart is Not a Size and quickly found that I was dividing my time between marveling at the thoughtful beauty of this story of friendship and identity, and the masterful way that Kephart constructs and communicates worlds in phrasing that is both spare and profound. I  took a few days to read this small book because I often had to stop just to ponder Kephart’s gift of language, and how much she is able to communicate with sentences that are seemingly casual, but which have to be carefully considered and placed by the author.

What I loved was that the characters of this novel are crafted to express the girls, yes, but to also allow the readers to inhabit their existence and merge the girls’ experiences with their own personal feelings and reflections. You get just enough detail about each to effectively convey who they are, but I kept noticing that some details, Georgia and Riley’s size for one, are left to the imagination – to be determined by the reader and the reader’s state of mind and experiences. Riley is described as tiny, elfin, and on the verge of disappearing, but what does that mean for Georgia, and to the reader?  One of the things that I thought a lot about was the unbalanced and negative images that are broadcast about women, that lead to us chasing the  impossible standards and ideals that Riley thinks will make her special to her mother. Normally I would have been up in arms over not having a more complete picture of the characters, but here it added layers of meaning to the story for me.  I still think about Georgia and Riley, and Georgia’s painful, yet exquisitely worded realizations about life and friendship.

If you are looking for a novel where big things happen and the whole world changes, then you are looking in both the right place and the wrong place with The Heart Is Not A Size. Kephart places an amazing amount of trust in her readers, and while the movement in the story is subtle and unfolds slowly, lives do change in a big way. Highly Recommended.

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