Book Review: How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow


How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow

Published: November 1st 2022 by Harper TEEN
Rating: ★★★★★ (5)
Genre: YA // Romance, Holiday, Jewish, LGBT
Quick Thoughts: A rare gem of a book that comforts, swoons and above all, empathetically oozes with the joy, heartbreak and complexness of falling in love.

About The Book:

Kelly Quindlen meets Casey McQuiston in this sapphic Jewish twist on the classic Christmas enemies-to-lovers rom-com, as college freshman Shani’s internship is interrupted by a whirlwind winter fling.

It all starts when Shani runs into May. Like, literally. With her mom’s Subaru.

Attempted vehicular manslaughter was not part of Shani’s plan. She was supposed to be focusing on her monthlong paleoichthyology internship. She was going to spend all her time thinking about dead fish and not at all about how she was unceremoniously dumped days before winter break.

It could be going better.

But when a dog-walking gig puts her back in May’s path, the fossils she’s meant to be diligently studying are pushed to the side—along with the breakup.

Then they’re snowed in together on Christmas Eve. As things start to feel more serious, though, Shani’s hurt over her ex-girlfriend’s rejection comes rushing back. Is she ready to try a committed relationship again, or is she okay with this just being a passing winter fling?

FYI: readers please note, this is a Jewish Holiday novel—refrain from labelling it as “Christmas” as that’s not factually correct. It takes place at Christmas/Festive time, but is a Jewish Holiday book.

First Thoughts

It’s officially goodbye to Autumn (at least in my book) and hello to everything festive, so it’s no wonder I reached for this delightful little read. It’s been on my TBR-need-to-read list for so long and I am so grateful that Harper360 gifted me a copy to hold in my own two hands! 

My Review

Shani has had a rough time lately. Not only did she get humiliated by her ex-girlfriend after they’d had sex by breaking up with her, but she keeps kicking herself for being off to her mother without cause and, the cherry on top, is especially mad at herself for not speaking to her best friend the entire time she was dating her ex. She wants looking forward to what’s to come—her internship before college in particular. But then, on route to living with an old friend of the family for the month, her mother almost runs down a girl that Shani can’t quite get out of her head ever since. And when she offers to take over one of her temporary roommates jobs—dog walking the local celebrity weatherman’s corgi—Shani is dumbfounded to find that the girl her mother almost committed vehicular manslaughter on is the daughter of said weatherman.

Things are as frosty as the cold sweep of weather in the city between Shani and May for a short stint, and then, like ice cracking, they’re dog-walking together, texting and becoming almost . . . friends? But Shani can’t help but feel feelings blossoming for May. She doesn’t even know if May likes girls, and on top of that, she swore off dating to focus on studying fossils and fish—not spending all her time obsessing over a new romance and flashbacks of her ex-gifted trauma. Only, things soon start heating up. And snowed in together on Christmas Eve projects their relationship into solid ground. But with unresolved memories of her ex haunting her the closer she gets to May, Shani feels her heart freezing over again. She wants so many things—this thing blooming with May, a better relationship with her mother, to be open about being gay. It all comes crashing down with one question hanging in the air: what does Shani have to do to have it all?

Overall, How To Excavate A Heart was a rare gem of a book that comforts, swoons, and above all, empathetically oozes with the joy, heartbreak and complexness of falling in love, healing and growing up. I adored Shani, May, Taylor, Beatrice and so many characters that turned into favourites. I’ve never read a book by Jake before, but they have this beautiful way of making you fall in love with the characters and feel exactly what they’re feeling. This was a stunning read that was perfect for kicking off the festive season. The easiest five stars!


About The Author

Jake Maia Arlow (she/they) is a podcast producer, writer, and bagel connoisseur. She studied evolutionary biology and creative writing (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College. They’ve lived in various places, but can always be found with an iced coffee.

Have you read How To Excavate A Heart?

If you haven’t, don’t forget to add this incredible book to your TBR!

Let me know in the comments or on twitter @LittleMemoirs!

happy reading!

Becca x

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