Julian’s always been closer to his mother than his father. So when she leaves their home in North Carolina to manage a hotel in Florida for her parents, he knows there’s more to the story. Stuck at home until summer so he can finish 10th grade, Julian slowly starts to spend more time with his dad. As he gets to know his dad, he also forges a bond with the elderly woman next door, and a young cashier at the grocery store. With his world expanding, Julian begins to find what’s most important to him, and he learns more about his parents and their relationship along the way.
Heart with Joy by Steve Cushman is an unexpected look at the life of a teenage boy. Julian doesn’t have a lot of friends to confide in, and he can’t escape into electronic games, because he doesn’t have any. He likes to cook, but he’s afraid to tell anyone, because he believes they may be critical of his work in the kitchen.
Without his mother to confide in, Julian slowly opens up to possibilities around him. From his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Peters, he learns to notice and appreciate the birds in his backyard. From Tia, the cashier, he learns that it’s okay to let other people know what you’re really like.
Above all, Julian has to find out who he is separate from either of his parents. His journey to self-awareness unfolds gently, and it provides many things to discuss for members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 to 16. I recommend it.