Published by Candlewick Press on October 9, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Content warnings: racist comments (challenged); threats of violence that are racially motivated; stereotypes of Native peoples (challenged); slut-shaming (challenged); bullying (challenged); mentions of genocide (challenged); mentions of religion
In Hearts Unbroken, we follow our main character, Louise Wolfe, as she balances life, school, friendships, dating, and being a journalist on her school newspaper– all while enduring constant microaggressions due to her Native (Muscogee) identity.
I’ve made an effort in 2018 to read more books by and about Native and First Nations people, and Hearts Unbroken is one I’d absolutely recommend. When Louise’s (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend makes a disrespectful comment about another Native woman in front of her, she quickly realizes that being Native and living in a predominantly-white area adds an extra layer of difficulty to both dating and, well, everyday life.
Lou joins her school newspaper’s reporting staff and partners up with the new boy at school, Joey. The two become fast friends, and their friendship quickly develops into a romance. Meanwhile, the newspaper staff has their hands full covering the school’s fall musical– there is heavy backlash from community groups when the theater director takes an inclusive approach to casting their production of The Wizard of Oz.
Hearts Unbroken is brilliant in that it tackles racism on a wider scale with the musical plot, while also chronicling Lou and her family’s own experiences and the microaggressions they deal with every day. It shows both the subtle and the overt ways prejudice can rear its ugly head. This book also touches on the ways Native history and culture have been and continue to be systemically erased from America’s past and present. It also tackles the issue of creators who have taken problematic, sometimes even horrific, stances, and whether or not we can navigate loving a creator’s work with their personal views. (See: The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s advocation of Native genocide.)
Lou herself was a bit of a self-righteous character, but it was so much fun to be inside her head. She still has things to learn about the world, too, and I loved going on that journey with her. I loved how assertive she was; she always seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn’t always go about getting those things in the most thought-out ways. Her parents were present throughout the novel– yay for YA with supportive parents– and I also enjoyed Lou’s relationship with her younger brother, Hughie. It’s always fun to read about siblings who are close and who don’t fight all the time (even though both of those experiences are equally valid and real). The Wolfe siblings also practice Mvskoke together throughout the book, which I loved. They are both beginners learning the language for the first time, as is the author.
I’m a sucker for a romance that develops at least partially at or because of school, so it’s no surprise that I loved Louise and Joey’s relationship. There’s a healthy dose of journalism rivalry between the two, and they’re both very driven, but there’s a mutual respect for one another that I really appreciated. Toward the end of the book, Lou says something pretty awful to Joey, and we see her learn from her mistakes, own up to them, and apologize. YAY for communication.
Overall, Hearts Unbroken is a refreshing, fun YA contemporary with #OwnVoices Native rep, and I can’t wait to read more work by this author in the future. Highly recommend to fellow lovers of diverse contemporaries!
Have you read Hearts Unbroken? Who is your favorite Native, First Nations, or indigenous author?