Imagine that you are a part of a very tight knit community and that the only tie that you have to your father, who died before you were born, is a small piece of land and a love of architecture. You have planned to build a tiny house on your land during the summer only to find that your mom is thinking about moving in order to get a better job. That is the set-up to the new book The House that Lou Built, by Mae Raspecio (June 2018, Random House Kids).
*Note – Thank you to NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions are my own.
The story that Raspecio has created is unique and fresh. Her main character is Lou Bulosan-Nelson, a young girl who is half-Filipino. She and her mother share a room in her grandmother’s house because her mom isn’t making enough money as a nurse. When her mother says they might move away from San Francisco to Washington state, she speeds up her house plans to try and convince her mother to stay by creating a place of their own. As a middle schooler she doesn’t fully understand the monetary aspects that her mother deals with, particularly that land is taxed and can easily be taken away if you can’t afford to pay the taxes.
There are a lot of strengths with this story. A big one is having a character so involved in designing and building her own house. When we think of STEAM it often revolves around computer technology and coding. The reality, is that architecture is classic STEAM and so much more.
The other big part of this story has to do with the relationships that Lou has and what she needs to learn about relationships. Her Filipino community is especially important to her and throughout the story she is also putting in time to prepare for the upcoming Barrio Fiesta. At the same time, she asks her friends to make time in their schedules to help her with her house, even though none of them have any building experience. They agree to help because they care for her, but none of them are ready to work the way that she expects them to. When one of her friends gets hurt at the construction site, friendships are tested.
One of the things that is true to life, but as an adult you wish it wasn’t, is that in order to build her house, Lou goes against her mother’s specific orders not to go out to the construction site without adult supervision. There is a lot of lying and sneaking around going on, but Lou never really has consequences for any of it.
The House that Lou Built feels different from other books out there. It is refreshing to have a Filipino main character and allow her to stay very true to her culture without pounding it in to you. At times I felt the story was a little slow, but I also think there is an audience out there wanting this book.