Book Review: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith
New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.
When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?
Go ahead and place your order for this book before you even read the review. The tl;dr version of this review is that the book is pretty great and when is the last time you read a book with a female main character who is Native?
Louise is a complicated character. Having recently moved from Texas to Kansas, Muscogee (Creek) Louise describes her family as middle middle class. They have a lot of family in Indian Country, Oklahoma, but in her new town in Kansas, she and her brother, Hughie, are definitely in the minority. Louise splits with her boyfriend, Cam, after his disparaging remarks about Native people, and tests out potential crushes on new boys, only to find that the Choctaw boy she thinks is cute only dates white girls and her seemingly-nice classmate Pete conflates Native people with alcoholics. It’s while working on the school newspaper as a features reporter that Louise meets Joey, an Arab American boy she bonds with over their shared interest in journalism. Things at school become increasingly tense when Hughie and two other students of color are cast in the school play, with some white parents forming a group to protest these roles going to non-white kids (for the first time ever). Hughie and the two other students receive threatening notes telling them to go back to where they came from. The newspaper covers the controversy, and Hughie grows conflicted over taking a role in a play by L. Frank Baum after he learns of Baum’s racism and his calls for genocide of Native people. Louise deals with racist remarks, ignorance, and microaggressions, trying to educate others and do her job as a reporter in the midst of cries of “reverse racism” and political correctness gone too far.
While Louise never wavers in her quest to educate others, she has a lot of room to grow as a friend. Her alleged best friend, Shelby, is largely absent in the book, usually busy working and not really understood well by Louise, who has trouble seeing beyond herself sometimes. She has a lot to learn about friendships, dating, and understanding others. But these flaws make her real, and interesting. Readers see her grow and change as she makes more connections with people in her new town and stands up for what she believes in and what she knows is right. Mvskoke words are sprinkled throughout the next, with a glossary appended as well as an important author’s note. This book also accomplished the near-impossible: it made me miss high school for two seconds, reminding me of my love for writing for the school newspaper and the frustrations and community that can come with that. This is a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Sure to inspire interesting classroom discussions, this is a must-have for all collections.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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