Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Release date: October 9, 2018
An e-galley was provided by Candlewick Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Goodreads synopsis for Hearts Unbroken promises a tight, focused narrative...and the book does not quite deliver. While characters are strong (I loved Louise's family - both immediate and extensive), the plot meanders. Time jumps are jerky and startling, and the story had several unfocused moments that could've related to the over-arcing plot lines better.
Louise and Shelby's friendship did feel a bit weak. There's a point towards the end where Shelby gets mad for Lou only ever talking about her own trivial problems. Which, true. Shelby has a lot on her plate, too. But Lou's life was imperfect and she had a lot to deal with as well, between hate crimes and her burgeoning career in journalism.
Hughie's arc was great. It's hard to put it into words, but the kid goes through some tough things and learns a lot and forms his own opinions. And I really liked Louise's parents. They were fully-formed characters, too, with back story and interests.
I never quite cared about the romance between Lou and Joey, to be honest. I mean, yeah, he was a better guy than her first boyfriend, but he felt more like a shiny toy and a vehicle for Lou to learn and grow. I never really saw the sparks between them.
The commentary on racism was perhaps a little heavy-handed at times. All points made were 100% valid and necessary, but the way some were delivered felt inauthentic.
Content warning: Foul language, more than I expected for a book with such a young tone. Making out and allusions to having sex. Racism (explicit and offhand comments) and targeted hate crimes against Native people, black students, and Latinx students.
The Verdict: Not a bad book in the slightest. Just not a new favorite.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Hmm...probably not.