Arthur and Kel are both isolated and lonely, and that is about all their stories seem to have in common for much of this novel. Arthur is a morbidly obese adult; Kel is a teenager whose life is just not going very well. Kel’s story doesn’t launch until about 80 pages into the novel, which may test the patience of some readers. On the other hand, Arthur is a great narrator of his own story, and teens may find themselves drawn in by his condition.
Liz Moore is both a writer and a musician; her debut novel The Words of Every Song (Broadway Books, 2007) was based on her experiences in the music business. You can read excerpts of Heft on her blog (scroll down to find them).
San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Katie Crouch expounds on Kel’s situation and the appeal of the novel’s high school scenes:
“As emotionally appealing as Arthur is, he’s in a dead heat with Kel, the other voice of the novel. Kel is a baseball prodigy, but that’s the only thing he has going for him in life. Though his mother has petitioned him to go to school in a tony suburb where the boys stick to a uniform of chinos and expensive leather flip-flops, Kel’s house in Yonkers often has no heat and electricity because his mom can’t pay the bills.
As we are introduced to Kel’s world, we enter some terrific high school scenarios, the sort those of the John Hughes era may dearly miss in the new teen world of dystopian zombie colonies. Kel is poor, but he’s at a rich school, and his efforts to fit in will tweak even the dustiest of heartstrings.”
Adult/High School–Heft is told in alternating first-person points-of-view by Arthur Opp, a 500+ pound recluse who hasn’t been out of his New York brownstone in years, and Kel Keller, a teen jock living in Yonkers who attends a prestigious public high school in a much richer town. Arthur once taught English at a local university and his only true joy is a sporadic correspondence with Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student. Kel is trying to hide the fact from friends and school officials that his mother is a staggering drunk who can no longer pay their bills. When she says she is coming to visit, Arthur is forced to reevaluate his solitary life and Kel discovers he doesn’t really know his mother at all. The two men search for meaning and explore their own mettle while forging new relationships: Arthur with Yolanda, a pregnant young maid who comes to clean his house, and Kel with Lindsay Harper, a vivacious girl who seems to be able to look past the surface and see who he really is. Although Arthur and Kel never meet or even speak to one another until the very end of the book, their stories intertwine and run parallel, forming the core of a complex exploration of family and connections, both those we try to make and those that are missed. Both Arthur and Kel have distinct voices, which are welcome lures to those who are willing to stretch a little.–Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI