How to Excavate a Heart: A Christmas, Hanukkah and Holiday Book

£6.495
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How to Excavate a Heart: A Christmas, Hanukkah and Holiday Book

How to Excavate a Heart: A Christmas, Hanukkah and Holiday Book

RRP: £12.99
Price: £6.495
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This was a super cute holiday read, but I think it's also a solid read for anytime of year really! It's cute but goes a lot deeper too. It has a lot of cute and fun festive elements (also featuring lots of Jewish representation!) but it has a lot of merit outside of that as well. The main character is really interested in archeology which was a fun element. The main character Shani has a lot of struggles with relationships that I think many would find relatable. She carries trauma from her past girlfriend and watching her development as she worked through that was something I really appreciated. Shani also kind of starts to lose sight of what she personally wants because she gets a bit girl crazy, but I liked that it was portrayed as something she has to work through if that makes sense.

Ultimately, I’m really disappointed with this book. It had so much potential to be a great sapphic, Jewish romance that pushes against stereotypes and tells a nuanced story of growing up, becoming independent and uncovering who you are outside the pretences of relationships. Sadly, it wasn’t even close to that. I really wish I could give this a higher rating, but due to the insensitive and needless portray of sexual assault, I really don’t feel comfortable giving this anything higher. Another thing that was well done was showcasing two very messy, very stereotypical (and self-aware of it) lesbian teens in all their messy, immature glory. How to Excavate a Heart’ has certainly proved that hypothesis wrong. Good news: publishers are now also releasing poorly written sapphic romances; goodbye homophobia! Equality is now!

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Representation of queer women who are sexually assaulted by other queer women is important because it’s a topic that’s scarcely spoken of. However, ‘How to Excavate a Heart ‘ does not deal with this issue in a mature, nuanced or sensitive manner at all. If anything, it felt little more like a means to an end, a plot point to be whipped out at the very end to excuse the main character’s bad personality and then brushed over.

While this is definitely a rom-com, it also doesn’t shy away from covering heavy topics, especially in regards to Shani’s ex-girlfriend. The discussion around Shani’s discomfort with sex following Sadie sexually assaulting her was handled very well, and I loved that 1) both Jake Maia Arlow and Shani herself drew a clear line between someone not being comfortable with sex due to trauma and asexuality, as Shani is the former and not the latter and 2) that the book did not end with Shani miraculously overcoming her trauma and having sex with May and instead with the two of them agreeing to take it slow. I can foresee some people possibly having problems with the way that the third-act breakup plays out and how it ties into Shani’s past assault, but I think it felt like a realistic response to trauma as opposed to using sexual assault as a plot device. I also love that this is a YA book that centers on college freshman but is still very much appropriate for a teen audience—the college experience is not really central to the book since it takes place during Shani’s internship during winter break, but the element of being alone (especially during a time of year where family is seen as the central focus) is very much there. Also I forgot to mention this in my original review since I wrote it uh. very late at night but this was also SO funny at times. Genuinely some of the most realistic texting (especially the Beep Beep Scene; you'll know it when you get there) that managed to be funny and also feel like actual texting conversations I'd have with my friends. Seemingly an unpopular opinion but I thought this one was just fine, which is reflected in my rating. Full disclosure, close to the end there was a triggering part so I skimmed past that. I had recently read RUMOR GAMES and had to DNF close to the end for a similar reason and just didn't want to do it again. So do be aware of trigger warnings before going into this (the author also provides trigger warnings.)

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Shani Levine has just been dumped when her winter break starts and she is about to begin her month-long internship at the Smithsonian. She’s decided to keep her head down and concentrate on her internship when she quite literally runs into May. She meets May again when she takes a dog-walking gig and May happens to be the dog owner’s daughter. The two have a strong dislike for one another but it isn’t long before their feelings start to change. I love it for being a sapphic Jewish holiday romance, but the actual execution was middling to low. The book reveals at around the 80% mark that part of the reason Shani has unresolved trauma from her break-up with her ex-girlfriend is because said ex-girlfriend sexually assaulted her. I do admittedly feel like I have broken some sort of law by reading a book pitched as “if a Hallmark movie starred sexually frustrated lesbian Jews” and that was originally titled “Winter Break” on a very hot and humid August day, but honestly I’m glad I did because now I can confidently say that you all need to add this to your winter TBRs. Shani is a relatable main character, and I loved her voice. She has just finished her first semester of university, and the author does can excellent job capturing all the feelings of starting this new phase of one’s life. What I especially enjoyed about Shani is the way she makes mistakes as she navigates all the changes in her life. This makes her realistic, and through some of her messier moments, she is able to grow. ❀ Complex Relationships

Throughout the book, the author also delves into many complex relationships. We see Shani’s interactions with her mom, who she fights with but still loves, with her ex, who left her with lingering trauma in the aftermath of their breakup, and with May, as their relationship develops and they learn to communicate. These dynamics reveal more of Shani’s personality and bring even more complexity to the story.Add that to the fact that I did not care for May's character at all. She seems rude and insulting to Shani and apparently to everyone else. Her relationship with her dad is sort of magically fast-forward resolved and the conflicts seem a bit artificial because literally all that is needed is communication of any kind. The primary character arc as I saw it was about Shani learning to be her own person, independent of a best friend or girlfriend, but this is glossed over in the resolution as well so I'm not sure what the takeaway was. this is arlow's debut, and i think they nailed it. it's YA in a wholesome way that made me root for shani's growth, rather than be annoyed by her immaturity. the drama is balanced with witty chapter titles, funny banter, corgi cuteness, facts about fish, and more. i love the side characters, especially hilarious and often-inappropriate elderly beatrice, cool queer mentor mandira, shani's sweet rejected-yet-relaiable mom, and dopey pup raphael. There's a way to write trauma-related outbursts, sexual assault storyline’s and relationship issues, but this isn't it. I don't believe the storyline or its ramifications were well executed at all. Sexual assault is hard to write about and have conversations about in general, but even more so when the book is attempting to be a feel-good, lighthearted teenage romance and keeping everything surface level. It really does a disservice to such an important topic. If you’re going to include healing from sexual abuse trauma in a romance novel, introducing this facet of the characters experiences must happen prior to the 80% mark and can���t be used as a pseudo plot-twist.(Note: While the book references Shani’s discomfort over being sexually intimate a few times, it only reveals the reason behind this quite late into the book.) To be completely honest, this book is not good. I’ve become accustomed to a lot of heterosexual adult romances being pretty poorly written — after reading ‘The Spanish Love Deception’, the ‘Bromance Bookclub’ and snippets of Colleen Hoover’s novels (among others), I’m generally more surprised when a straight romance novel is actually well written. Well written romances, I previously believed, were reserved for the sapphics.

This is my second middle grade novel, and the first one with chronically ill characters. The entire main cast is both queer and chronically ill (they all have IBD). I was diagnosed with Crohn's when I w Keep your friends close and the bathroom closer. If Shani’s trauma had been a key component of the story and her journey to dealing with her trauma was a main plot point of the book then perhaps my rating would be different. Instead, sexual assault is used in ‘How to Excavate a Heart’ as a ungraceful, forced conflict between Shani and various other characters and never gets properly discussed. Only once is the experience actually called sexual assault and, again, this happens very late into the book. The treatment of the topic in this book really made me question whether or not sensitivity readers were brought in to give notes on the representation of sexual assault. I truly cannot conceive of how this ham-fisted inclusion made it into a traditionally published novel. I am a hater of Hallmark movies. This is somewhat surprising since I do all around like the holiday season, unironically celebrate Festivus, and never fail to fall into a rut when it’s over for the year. As it turns out, the solution to my dislike for Hallmark movies is for them to star lesbians. There’s no shortage of sapphic rom-coms coming out this year that center on Hanukkah, Christmas, and/or the general month of December, and if this is the quality that all of them will be, then I welcome the seemingly sudden prominence of the sub-genre. Shani is a relatable main character, and I loved her voice. She has just finished her first semester of university, and the author does can excellent job capturing all the feelings of starting this new phase of one’s life. What I especially enjoyed about Shani is the way she makes mistakes as she navigates all the changes in her life. This makes her realistic, and through some of her messier moments, she is able to grow. How to Excavate a Heart” by Jake Maia Arlow is a super sweet enemies-to-lovers rom-com set around the winter holidays.Every other character in this book has no merit; there are so many side characters that don’t need to be here. There’s entire scenes which involve this acne-riddled teenage barista boy who keeps flirting for Shani which does nothing for the narrative. Nobody is likeable. The characters are so unimportant to the novel that I can’t even recall the name of the best friend character, which is ironic given Shani’s propensity to also forget her existence whenever she’s in a relationship. Let me reiterate: Shani, who we’ve been told reveres the field of palaeontology and for whom this internship is a dream-come-true throws priceless artefacts in the trash… Personally, if I were her manager, I would’ve been convicted of murder after that. As someone who had a huge (huge!) palaeontology and dinosaur obsession throughout my life and who did minor studies in the field during my time at university, I could not imagine liking someone so much that I throw fossils —literal million year-old artefacts that have ground-breaking scientific potential— in the bin, even if it were an accident. how to excavate a heart was such a lovely book with amazing winter vibes!! the characters were so awesome and relatable which i loved!! i especially loved beatrice - she so sweet and precious and i was upset at the end when she had to go to the hospital, but i'm so glad she was alright! the representation was also great :) Stars. This was a very cute holiday romance, but it wasn’t what I was expecting to read. I’ll go into the whys more but overall; I still thought the story was very sweet and cute and I enjoyed the read for the most part. The holidays don’t play as big of a role as I expected, and in the book the characters celebrate New Years so reading the book now, as of writing this review, would fit perfectly.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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