paper-heart

Paper Heart

Aileen Arrington

Mama says Nadia’s not like other kids—her heart can’t take the strain.

On cold days Nadia isn’t allowed to play outside with the other sixth-graders. She can’t bring a friend home after school unless they promise to sit quietly and play cards. As Mama reminds her constantly, she’s not like other kids—her heart can’t take the strain. When the teacher announces that the class will put on a play, Nadia is excited—at last, something she can do! It will change everything: she will be Nadia the amazing actress, not Nadia the sick kid. Maybe it will even convince Mama to drop her plans to home-school her. But Nadia doesn’t get the lead in the play, or any part at all. When she learns that her mother asked the teacher to keep her from participating, she begins digging around for answers. Why does Mama mess everything up for her? And exactly what is wrong with her heart? In the process of searching for the truth, Nadia finds the inner strength to get help for herself and Mama.


  • Ages: 11 - 14
  • Grades: 6 - 9
  • Pages: 116

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Recent Reviews

This short, plainly written, but intense novel gives readers an immediate connection to Nadia's fears and dreams.

—Horn Book

Arrington creates an intriguing plot that has a touch of mystery and suspense. ...Renders the eternal battle between parental desire for protectiveness and a child's desire for liberty in particularly urgent terms. It's especially believable and poignant that Nadia has absorbed her mother's conviction, taking every flush of disappointment or speeding heartbeat of anger as an episode of illness. Though things wrap up a bit speedily at the end, the concept remains intriguing and the telling intense, so readers will easily sympathize with Nadia's plight even as they begin to wonder about their own parental restrictions.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

As a story for middle-grade readers, this puts a relatively positive spin on a disturbing subject: the kind of parental mental illness that sees and nurtures ill health in a perfectly normal child. ...Useful as part of a library collection in the same way other books about child abuse are useful—to alert some children that not all is ordinary or okay in their own home—the book also provides the kind of horrified fascination other stories about illness have for some young readers who will see what's really happening long before Nadia and the adults in her life do.

—Kirkus Reviews

Nadia's redemptive realizations—from her new understanding of her mother's mental illness to her shrewd assessment of her conniving classmates—feel genuine. A few characters, such as also-ostracized Carmalee, stand out, and Arrington (Camp of the Angel) nicely sketches the classroom pecking order.

—Publishers Weekly

A sophisticated reader will know before Nadia what the family secret is, but younger readers may be as surprised as Nadia to find that she is not as sick as her mother suggests. ...Because there is only one major plot element, the story unfolds slowly, and at the midpoint, a reader could become frustrated that seemingly nothing has happened. Those who continue to read will be rewarded.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

"Superior, well above average. Because of her weak heart, Nadia has always been cosseted by her mother, a situation Nadia has passively accepted until the prospect of starring in the sixth-grade Christmas play presents itself. This plainly written but intense novel gives readers an immediate connection to Nadia's fears and dreams. Nadia's mounting resentment is carefully charted, climaxing with a satisfying touch of melodrama.

—Horn Book Guide

Honors for Paper Heart

  • SSLI Honor Book Award

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