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How to Build a House

by Dana  Reinhardt

Published by Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, 2008
227 pages
ISBN: 9780375844539

Age 14 and older

Seventeen-year-old Harper Evans flies cross-country from trendy Los Angeles, California, to small-town Bailey, Tennessee, where she has signed up to spend a summer building homes in an area devastated by tornadoes. The instructive chapter titles—“Lay the Foundation,” “Put Up Walls,” “Insulate Yourself”—offer a chronology of her volunteer experience as well as a metaphor for the personal issues Harper is forced to deal with. Before her departure, Harper’s father and adored stepmother had split up. Not only is Harper’s idea of home shattered, but her relationship with her best friend and stepsister, Tess, is seriously damaged. Harper’s anger and confusion fuel her energy for the habitat project in the “Here” sections, and flashbacks to “Home” shed light on the troubling circumstances she fled. The transformative power of a summer away is experienced by the teens in Harper’s volunteer group in the form of romantic flings and post-curfew adventures, and Harper finds herself falling in with new friends and a new relationship. Teddy, her love interest and the recipient of the new house her group is building for his family, provides Harper with the support and comfort she needs. Biracial (Black/white) Teddy and his family are almost too perfect, but that’s due in part to Harper’s focus on the faults of her own family. With the help of the offbeat humor and wisdom of her project guide Linus and the development of a surprising new skill set, Harper finds the comfort of home within herself.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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