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?
About the Author
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the best-selling, acclaimed author of the Tantalize series and the Feral series. She is an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and is on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Louise "Lou" has recently moved to Kansas from Oklahoma and Texas, and she is adjusting to some changes. Lou knows she is lucky to be the girl friend of the popular Cam Ryan, but her decision to break up with him via email comes as a result of learning his true feelings about Native Americans. Lou is proud of her heritage and her place in the Muscogee Nation. When the director the school musical version of The Wizard of Oz decides to create a cast featuring actors of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, Lou's younger brother Hughie is cast as the Tin Man. A group of parents organizes a protest group that threatens to tear the community apart. Several families and individuals, including Lou and her family, recent threatening messages telling them to go back where they came from. Lou, her best friend Shelby, and her new friend Joey use the school online newspaper The Hive to defend the Oz production and point out the threats aimed at cast members and others. The resulting tensions could end Lou's budding romance with Joey and cost a teacher her job as advisor of the school paper. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith gives readers a unique view of diversity by revealing Lou's Native American ancestry including a look at the native language of the Muscogee Nation. (See included glossary.) HEARTS UNBROKEN also exposes L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, as an outspoken racist in favor of genocide. Smith's newest novel definitely illustrates the need for diverse books.
Conceptually, Hearts Unbroken had a good plot and setting to discuss micro-agressions, racism and bigotry faced by minorities in a predominantly white community. Louise’s family had moved to the neighborhood a while back, and in her senior year, she has joined the Journalism club at school and her little brother has been picked to play a major role in the school play. The community’s opposition to the casting including children of color in main and major roles starts a wave of discussion regarding the way minorities are treated in the town. And on a personal level, Louise’s dating life is being very cautious of the boys she dates after the last one made insulting comments about Native Americans. The thing that this book fails at, however, is the writing itself. Right from the start, I was troubled by the style – in which scenes are anecdotal in form, and and end abruptly in the middle of conversations, then skip ahead to another scene without any proper flow in between. Also, every time a new character is introduced, Louise goes on a tangent telling us about their personality, what they do, who they are, etc, which is distracting and to be honest, reads like this is more of an essay than a story. At times, even the surrounding descriptions happen right in the middle of dialogue, and since this is Louise in first person, it makes you wonder why she is ruminating about the surroundings in the middle of a serious conversation, when that could have been described BEFORE it. The way it was all written just made this a frustrating experience in reading. On the topics, though, it hits relevant notes. It talks about micro-aggressions as well as outright bigotry. It shows how the oppressors make others too bend to their pressure – as was in the example of the PART threatening non-compliant people by hurting their businesses. The adults in the book also participate in the conversation, as in the case of the teachers who call out white extremists, and the culture of rejecting any change in the status quo, including how the language is coded to hide outright racism. The addition of the occasional articles from the school newspaper, The Hive, was a smart decision because it, at times, progressed the plot better than any prose could have. I liked that it challenged even Louise’s inexperience and occasional self-centeredness, but the thing with her boyfriend was more of a ‘misunderstanding as a plot device’ than an actual attempt to balance her personality construct. Also, because the writing is at fault, all the above discussion comes across more like a sermon, and a checklist of racial things to tackle, rather than a proper nuanced discussion of racial insensitivity in daily life. Bottomline – good concept and relevant discussion, but the writing fails it badly.
This book touches on such an important matter and underrepresented voice; however, I feel that if this had been about anything else, it would not have been published. The writing was poor: it read like a laundry list of things that happened with moments of dialogue to break it up. Nothing was fleshed out. Within the first ten percent of the book multiple Native American stereotypes had been mentioned (by a white character making a comment about it), and Louise would be upset and then end scene. I know people go around saying racist or insensitive comments but this was just weird and seemed like the author was doing a sort of info-dump of all negative things people think about regarding Native Americans. I would have loved to seen Smith pick one or two of the issues presented and develop a strong story and character around that instead of trying to tackle all of the racial things people say in one go. Reading this made me realize how little I’ve read where the MC is Native American. If anyone has suggestions, let me know!