TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Let me begin by saying that Dana Reinhardt's "How to Build a House" received starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, so it's entirely possible that my opinion is just plain wrong! Still, I have to admit I found it to be a decent but not great story of one teenager's summer spent building a house in western Tennessee.
Homes from the Heart is a sort of Habitat for Humanity outfit, and here the group is working with a few teens from across the country to build a new house for the Wrights, a biracial family who lost everything in a devastating tornado. Harper has signed on for this summer of hard labor and sweat partly because she's a staunch environmentalist and news of the tornado, which was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina's destruction, touched her heart. Mostly, though, Harper wanted a way to get out of southern California for the summer. She desperately needed to leave behind her newly divorced and brokenhearted dad; her former stepmother and stepsisters, who were the only real family members she ever had; and her oldest friend, Gabriel, who callously used and discarded Harper when she was at her most vulnerable.
Harper's summer goes about how you'd expect if you've ever read a single teen novel. Harper makes friends with a diverse group of kids from across the country (although, to me, her snarky pal Captain feels like a complete ripoff of the snarky Colonel in John Green's fabulous "Looking for Alaska" … right down to the name!). Harper begins to forgive her stepsister and closest friend, Tess, for a perceived wrong involving Gabriel. She discovers her strength and resourcefulness as she literally constructs something out of nothing. And, of course, she lets go and falls in love, in this case with Teddy, the Wrights' smart, affectionate, deep yet fun-loving son.
In the end, "How to Build a House" is a pleasant, earnest, yet wholly predictable novel populated by stock characters. It follows a standard yet inoffensive story arc, so it will neither surprise nor disgust you. While there's nothing exceptional here — typically, this sort of "chick lit" at least features zippy wit, crackling dialogue, or lyrical descriptions — there's nothing awful either. If you decide to check it out, I'd say this is more of a high school book (there are several discreet sex and drinking scenes) and one geared entirely toward girls. And, who knows, maybe you'll like it more than I did.