Monday, October 6, 2008

How to Build a House, by Dana Reinhardt

Harper is a 17 year old girl from Los Angeles who has decided to spend her summer with a volunteer program in Tennessee that is building houses for tornado victims. All the teenagers in the program are on one team, with a guru/type adult leader who travels the world building for people in need. He teaches/oversees the construction of their house, and (supposedly) keeps their behavior in line as well. Harper needs to be away from her home, since her dad has recently gotten divorced. Not from her mother, who’s dead, but from her stepmother who took her mother’s place when Harper was seven. She’s also lost two stepsisters to the conflict, one older and one who was her best friend. Obviously the story is about rebuilding, and not just a house. What’s ironic is that you get absolutely no details on how she or the others learn to do anything with carpentry, just some initial muscle pain and how hot it is to tar a roof in the Tennessean summer. When you hear about any construction, they all seemed to learn effortlessly, since the house ends up being beautiful. But you don’t miss that when you’re reading the book, because all the focus is on the two narratives which interchange throughout: Harper’s preceding year in Los Angeles, and her present summer. The narratives are all about relationships, mostly boys and whether they like you or not. Girls (and boys) can relate to Harper’s uneasiness and insecurity about herself, but you never understand why she is that way. The way she talks to her father is bold to the point of insulting, calling him on every weakness, but he just seems to take it. And there’s a hint that she was maybe overweight (?), since Harper in the beginning says she “can’t” wear jeans, but manages to don a pair at the end and look terrific. As one Amazon reviewer mentions, Harper’s Tennessee boyfriend (of the homeless family) is pretty unbelievable, saying everything he feels and never making a stupid move. Of course there’s sex in the book as well, and Ms. Reinhardt creates the illusion that it’s totally wonderful and never any problems about infection or pregnancy or getting in over their heads. Ms. Reinhardt writes well, but might be advised to dig a little deeper into her characters’ lives and actions.

No comments: