Yeah, I know: Technically, the holidays are over, and most people probably aren’t exactly looking for stories (partly) Hannukah / Christmas / the Holidays anymore. Still, I really want to write some lines about this book, which is why this review of How to Excavate a Heart is for those who don’t mind reading about two girls falling in love during winter break, or already want to find something to add to their wishlist for next year.


Technically, Shani’s plan for the winter holidays involved concentrating on her paleoichthyology internship (meaning studying dead fish, as one should), being grumpy in front of her mom and becoming a jewish nun after being dumped by her girlfriend. Practically, she spends her time almost killing an alarmingly cute girl, and later meeting her again to walk her dad’s corgi (with his snow booties – the dog’s, not the dad’s). And – of course – that’s not everything as said cute girl is named May and not that big of a human catastrophe as suspected (or maybe she is, but this might possibly not be that unattractive …).

My opinion:

It didn’t take me a long time to find my way into the story, which is especially due to the protagonist. Shani maybe isn’t the most unconventional main character compared to other coming-of-age stories. While she is kind of a petulant mess at the beginning, she develops over the time of the holidays, including several ups and downs and one or two mental breakdowns. So yeah, with Shani we have a rather typical young/new adult protagonist. Still, it didn’t take her and her slightly sarcastic, ancient-fish-loving, aspiring-jewish-nun nature long to find their way into my confused-teenagers-loving heart. Instead, I quickly added her to my mental list of comfort-characters.

This is also because I found a lot of parts of Shani and her story pretty relatable, for example her obsession with prehistoric fish. (Okay, well, my interests don’t actually focus on fish, but the way she feels and expresses her passion for the topic felt very familiar.) With all of that, we get an approachable, authentic character full of confusing emotions and love for corgis (as one should!).

How to Excavate a Heart feels like a warm blanket and was hence even more perfect to read during Christmas break. The story isn’t exactly slow-moving, but it somehow seemed that way to me while I was reading it. At the beginning, this was what kept me from being drawn into the book. At the end, the wintery, snow-walks-with-girlfriend-and-her-dad’s-corgi-vibes surely came across and I had a great cozy evening in my new reading chair (at this point, let’s just ignore the fact that said reading chair might actually be a desk chair which could theoretically also be used for doing schoolwork.).

Apropos girlfriend: With May, this story contains another loveable character – a pretty … irritable one, yes, but don’t be put off by her disliking dogs at the beginning (even though that should be a red flag, to be honest)! To be honest, I think her personal conflicts could have been a little more elaborated to make her character development seem more authentic. Still, I found her to be the perfect love interest for this story as she and Shani fit together very well. Overall, I just liked the portrayal of the romance in How to Excavate a Heart, not only because it is very healthy, but also for I was able to feel with the characters without the whole thing being annoyingly dramatic.

Aside from that, there are quite a few other side characters in this book that I grew very fond of, beginning with Shani’s mom and with Marinda at the top. Even though the story obviously very much focuses on Shani (and May) and they’re all just … there, they still add something to the novel which made it this cute, cozy, wintery story.

Final thoughts:

Altogether, I simply had a very good time with How to Excavate a Heart. It is a book with warmth, humor and love and even though there were a few tiny aspects that I think could have been done differently, I absolutely adored Shani’s story. So yeah, if you’re searching for a book about lesbians, dead fish and a corgi (which would make a great alternative title): here you are.

Information about the book:

Title: How to Excavate a Heart

Author: Jake Maia Arlow

Publisher: HarperTeen

ISBN: 0063078724

Language: English

Pages: 369

Price: 19,50 € (print) | 9,99 € (ebook)


All rights to the shown book cover are reserved to the publisher.