Title: Hearts Unbroken
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Publisher: Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018
Genre: YA Fiction, #ownvoices
Audience Age: 14 to 18 years
Themes/Topics: Friendship, romance, Native American history and issues, racism
Synopsis: Lou (short for Louise), is a high school junior in current-day Kansas. By the time the book ends, she is a senior. She and her family moved fairly recently from Texas. She’s a member of the Muskogee tribe. When the story opens, she is dating one of the most sought-after guys in her school, but when she realizes how deep his racist attitude toward Native people is, she dumps him.
She becomes heavily involved in the school newspaper, wanting to make a difference in her corner of the world – and as a bonus, getting to work closely with Joey, a talented photographer of Lebanese heritage. One of the stories they cover, that blasts its way through the school and the community, is the controversial casting of the school musical, The Wizard of Oz. Instead of the expected casting of white students in major roles, three talented students of color are cast – including Lou’s brother, Hughie, as the Tin Man.
A parent group pushes back against this, and the controversy soon gets out of control and frightening, as Lou’s family and the families of the other two, receive threatening notes, a teacher is suspended, and the library is “weeded” of “questionable” books.
As the controversy escalates, Lou has to navigate the complications of friendship, romance, race, and family loyalty as she tries to be true to herself, and in trying to do so, risks losing some of the relationships that mean the most to her.
This book was moving, real, gripping, eye opening and thought-provoking, while also being a heart-warming and affirming read. It touches on the many “micro-aggressions,” as Horn Book puts it, that Native American/First Nations kids face daily, showing how easily such things come up in conversation, in thoughtless actions, in ingrained habits as well as in overt racism. I highly recommend it.
For Further Enrichment: You can find an excerpt, links to reviews and resources, and much more at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website.
Cynthia also wrote a series of blog posts about the book and writing it at her excellent Cynsations blog. The series begins with this post.
There’s an interview with Cynthia on the School Library Journal podcast The Yarn.
Availability: Readily available. Check your local or online independent bookstore.