Review: Hearts Unbroken

Title: Hearts Unbroken
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 286
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: ARC provided by publisher

Summary: When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off immediately and dumps him.

It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time on 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 heighten 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?

Review: There are so many things to appreciate about Hearts Unbroken that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Lou’s new to the school paper and she’s finding her voice as she settles into the team. Lou shares her story with warmth and humor always holding tightly to her family and her Muscogee heritage.

Lou’s breakup doesn’t phase her much although it makes her a little wary of dating. She moves on and certainly gets busy with other things. The journalism focus of the novel was definitely appealing. Lou and her friends were actively seeking out controversy and news so there was always much to think about such as bullying including sexual bullying, censorship, racial/minority issues and students balancing work and school. It was good to see the students have a great deal of autonomy in their reporting.

Much of the novel centers around school and how people look at those they see as other. By using color conscious casting, the theater teacher has pushed the boundaries for some people. There is a group of parents who find it threatening that people of color have been cast in leading roles. Racist acts follow. What’s helpful here is that there is pushback on that racism. When things are said and done, most often it’s addressed immediately in some way. There are insults, slurs and horrible things said, but Lou or someone else will question these statements so they aren’t left standing on the page unchallenged.

Aside from discussions of problematic favorites and racism, there is also a romance blooming within these pages. Lou and Joey have a cute first conversation and get to know each other little by little via their journalistic endeavors.

Finally, I’m loving the family focus. Lou is centered in family. Her mom is busy working on her graduate degree so she can defend tribal sovereignty and “keep American Indian children in American Indian families and communities where we belong.” Her dad is a dentist who loves all things Tolkien. She watches out for her younger brother and also loves spending time with her cousins. One of those cousins is Rain from Cynthia’s previous novel Rain is Not My Indian Name. It was nice to see her briefly.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is a fantastic novel that provides romance and laughs, but will also give readers plenty to think about.

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