You Gotta Have Heart by Bruce Bernstein is a classic coming-of-age story and rags-to-riches story all wrapped into one. Twelve-year-old Alan Michaels has lost his parents in a car accident and is sent to live at New York City’s Bronx County Home of Indigent Boys. His luck turns around when he earns a scholarship to attend Sensei Hidecki’s School of Karate. There he meets special people who love karate and want to mentor him. Alan thinks he’ll be going to the lessons to practice karate, become good at something, and feel better about himself, but the people he meets wind up supporting him and passing on important lessons they’ve learned in their own lives in ways he never dreamed anyone would do for him. Over time, they become like family, which inspires him to work toward being all that he can be in all areas of his life, no matter what circumstances he faces.
You Gotta Have Heart has all the pieces that make up a good story. It was serious and sad at times, but the author tied up all the loose ends in this book.
You Gotta Have Heart is probably best for older teens. Boys would like reading about karate, boxing, and how the kids hassle each other at the boys’ home, while girls might enjoy the little bit of a love interest that plays out in the story.
Alan experienced loss, and the problems that cropped up at the boys’ home showed how hard life can be. However, the book’s positive message was that meaningful relationships in people’s lives are important. Everyone has a purpose and should be doing whatever they can to work on a goal or improve the lives of others, even when their own circumstances seem hopeless. None of us make the wisest choices all of the time, but we can learn from others. Since this is how we grow into the best people we can be, this story would be a good source of hope for teens facing similar issues as Alan. I also think it could help those of us who have ordinary, traditional lives appreciate how much we have been blessed.
This is a great book for a variety of audiences.