Title: How to Build a House
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Published: 2008 by Random House
Building a house takes time and hard work. But a home can be destroyed in one terrible moment – as Harper discovers when her dad and her beloved stepmother get a divorce. Even worse, the divorce separates Harper from her stepsister, Tess.It’s time to escape. Harper joins a volunteer program to build a house for a family in Tennessee who has lost their home in a tornado – not that she knows the first thing about construction. Soon Harper is living in a funky motel and working long days with kids from all over the country. She works alongside Teddy, the son of the family for whom the house is being built. Their partnership promises to turn into a summer romance, complete with power tools. For Harper, learning to trust and love Teddy isn’t easy, but it could be the first step toward finding her way back home.
”The world is drowning.”
I have very mixed feelings about this book. While I enjoyed the concept and the message about awareness of emotionally abusive relationships and messy divorces, I think that Dana Reinhardt killed her message in the end.
The book begins with a very environmentally conscious Harper flying on a plane over to Tennessee to help build a house. She was very struck by the tornado disaster that happened there, and wants to help the people affected. As the story goes on, she meets new friends and also relives moments from her past. We slowly learn that she was in a sort-of relationship with this boy Gabriel. She liked him, he occasionally used her for sex and then their relationship wouldn’t exist until the next time he wanted her. Also thrown into this mess of emotional problems, Harper was dealing with the divorce of her father and stepmother (her biological mom died when she was really young and her dad remarried soon after). This divorce creates tension with her stepsister Tess who was her best friend.
So coming from this giant mess at home, Harper now has to work with a bunch of other teenagers who she feels insecure around. However she quickly gets over it and starts making a friend in Teddy, who is going to live in the house they are building. Eventually Teddy and Harper get into a romantic relationship and, although you would THINK that Harper would be very hesitant to do so due to her past experiences, they have sex. A few times.
So here we wonder: what is Dana Reinhardt trying to convey to the readers? That it’s okay for teens to have sex with the boy they meet just that summer, and who they might never see again? That teenage sex is just fine as long as you’re in a “committed” relationship with the other person (who you might have just meet a few weeks ago)? She got her point across that guys who use girls for sex are despicable human beings and deserve to be alone. But from there she basically started saying it was fine to have sex with a boy like Teddy (who I found pushy at times), because he “loves” you.
I just didn’t really like the messages of this book. It was right in its portrayal of the effects of divorce. It was also very potent in the showing of abusive almost-relationships. But I feel like she defeated her positive messages by putting some negative messages in the story.
However, the writing was pretty nice, if concise and slightly choppy (it was first person, so that kind of writing can be slightly excused).
Content Warnings: Sex (not too descriptive), language