WHERE THE HEART IS by Jo Knowles: A Review by Two Rumpus Writers

This is Kirsti Call. And Amy Courage. We’re thrilled to discuss Jo Knowles book, WHERE THE HEART IS on Writer’s Rumpus.

KC: How long did it take you to read this?
Amy Courage:
It took me about 10 days to read WHERE THE HEART IS. That’s probably longer than most people, but I’m a pretty slow reader. I like to savor the emotional journeys of characters and really get into their world. I eat really slowly too… This makes my husband crazy sometimes, as he will often start clearing the table before I finish. Then I wonder where the ketchup went. 

AC: What was your favorite scene in the story? 

KC: “When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them.”

I love this moment, when Rachel discovers what it means to really suffer and describes it in such a poignant way.

KC: What was the most interesting part of the book?

AC: The most interesting part of the book for me was near the end when Rachel’s world starts to change dramatically. Without revealing too much, I’ll mention that she goes through a rough time with her family, and her best friend Micah becomes distant. I actually like when things get intense for characters and I felt the most invested in Rachel’s story at that point. I thought that how she dealt with those frustrations and changes felt real. Her emotions weren’t sugar coated, and she didn’t react perfectly to every situation. That made her more relatable and human. 

AC: Animals are a familiar presence throughout the story. What do you think they added to Rachel’s journey?

KC: Rachel spends much of her life with animals in this story. She owns a cat and a pony. She works at a farm where she’s consistently rebuffed by a pig whose life she’s trying to save. I think spending so much time with animals is therapeutic for Rachel, even when the chickens peck or the pig knocks her over, she’s doing something that matters. All the uncertainty of being a teenager can be solved by a little animal love.

KC: What stays with you? 

AC: The thing that stayed with me was how kids, like Rachel, can deal with a lot, and still remain true to themselves. 

AC: What do you think readers should take away from WHERE THE HEART IS?

KC: I think the most important message in this book is that happiness comes from how we think, and being true to ourselves.

Amy Courage’s Review
WHERE THE HEART IS tells the story of 13-year-old Rachel during the summer before her eighth grade year. It’s a year of big changes as her family faces financial challenges, and her relationship with her best friend becomes awkward as Rachel discovers her own identity might be changing. 
I enjoyed this story for its heart and gentleness. Jo Knowles writes with sensitivity and humor about a time when kids are dealing with social and family pressures. Junior high can be rough for many reasons. And I feel like the author captured that journey well, both the disappointments and hopes for the future. 

Kirsti Call’s Review

This coming of age story masterfully written by Jo Knowles is filled with humor, teenage angst, friendship, loyalty, financial issues, class, sexual identity, sibling love, work, and uncertainty. 

Rachel is a 13 year old girl who is not quite sure where she fits in. Rachel makes money working for her neighbors and taking care of their farm animals. When she can’t muster the courage to be the pig’s “FERN”, she grapples with the death of the pig, her feelings of loss when the house forecloses, and figuring out her sexual identity. Her best friend has money, and is in love with her. Her family struggles financially, and Rachel knows she’ll never love Micah the way her loves her. I love how in this book, it’s ok that Rachel isn’t ready to commit to a certain sexual identity. She’s figuring out who she is in her own time and in a way that works for her. This is a book that will resonate with all teens who feel different, and are learning how to navigate teenagerdom. 

WHERE THE HEART IS releases on April 2nd! You can find out more about Jo Knowles, here. And pre-order the book, here.


  1. Kirsti and Amy: this is such a fun post! I really like the tag team approach to book reviewing. I’m also a huge fan of Jo Knowles – her books and her conference presentations are always filled with heart.


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