Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles

Publication date: April 2, 2019 by Candlewick

I was lucky enough to get to read this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There is a lot going on in this new novel by Jo Knowles. Much of it will rip your heart out before letting it begin to mend. It had me bawling my eyes out at times – for Rachel, for her family and almost, for a pig.

Rachel, her younger sister, Ivy, and their parents have lived on Bittersweet Farm for as long as Rachel can remember. Circumstances beyond all their control: their mother losing her teacher librarian job because of school cutbacks, and their father's real estate sales dropping, mean they are facing foreclosure.
In order to help out at home Rachel ends up working on the neighbour’s hobby farm while they are on vacation. When everything else in her life seems to be falling apart, it’s her connection with these animals that seems to ground her.
Rachel’s best friend Micah wants their relationship to become more than just friends, but Rachel doesn’t feel that way about him. She’s not sure she can feel that way about a boy at all. When she makes a stupid mistake at a party to test this, it looks like she might have destroyed their friendship just when she needs it most.
I searched for a book like this one for my library collection for ages. This coming of age novel introduces us to Rachel, an ideal queer girl for elementary school readers. She is pondering her sexual identity, but nothing sexual happens in this book. I appreciate that there might be something more in her new relationship with Cybil, but it is only a possibility. I like the conversation between the two of them that reveals that their classroom teacher and environment is inclusive of everyone. I like that while Rachel's sexuality is important, it’s not the most significant part of this novel. Mostly I love that Rachel is a character students will be able to connect to and imagine as a friend.

As a teacher librarian myself, I was devastated to read of Rachel mother’s job loss. I was surprised that she didn’t just move into another teaching position which is what would happen here in my province of BC. it's actually what has happened to teacher librarians in many areas due to educational cutbacks and lack of staffing. I appreciate Jo Knowles bringing the issue to our consciousness, even if it is never resolved satisfactorily.

Thank you Jo Knowles for another brilliant book. I ask for nothing more in a novel than characters I can connect to. You have succeeded in pulling it off again. I love your people and can't help but wonder what the future will bring for them.
Were I still in charge of a library, I would preorder this book. If you haven't already done this, get on it will you!
If you can't wait for the April release date, you might be satisfied reading See You at Harry's, Still a Work in Progress or one of the authors many other fabulous reads.

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