Finding out your boyfriend’s mom is prejudice against Native Indians is bad, but finding out your boyfriend probably shares her views is devastating. Especially if you happen to be Native yourself. This is what happens to Louise Wolfe at an after prom brunch with her boyfriend, Cam. Quickly, Louise distances herself from Cam, and is ready to start her senior year of high school sans drama. However, it becomes apparent that won’t be happening. Louise is on the high school newspaper, and one of the big stories is that the theater department is putting on a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Since they live in Kansas, this is a big deal! And it becomes an even bigger deal with the director of the play makes it clear this cast will be inclusive – and maybe won’t look much like the original production.
Suddenly, the play becomes everything in this high school. And for Louise’s family, because her younger brother decides to go out for the roll of the Tin Man, even though he’s only a freshman. Louise wants to be writing hard hitting journalism stories that make a difference, but with so many things to focus on, finding that right piece is difficult. To make matters even more complicated, she begins to like a boy named Joey on her school newspaper.
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a book that is a quick read, and delves into a LOT of topics – from bullying, to racism, to censorship. Many topics are brought up and referred to, without much information to explain or help the reader understand exactly what the problem is. For example the hashtag #NDN is mentioned but not what it stands for. I looked it up and it is a shortening of Native Indian, which many Native Indians use to refer to themselves. I was thrilled to find a book with a Native Indian as the main character and her family. But often I felt like I was missing so much of what the point was, simply because I’m unfortunately ignorant of things I shouldn’t be. I do think it is possible for books to educate in such a way as to not appear to be educating. I would have liked that with this title, but sadly, I felt it missed the mark for me.
I do think the book tried to show how hard it can be sometimes to distinguish between willfully racist and discriminatory behavior, and when people step into landmines unintentionally. Louise finds this out herself when she tries to make a point with Joey. I did learn about L. Frank Baum, the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” and his horrible views on Native Indians, which I had been unaware of prior to reading the book. Overall, the book is a good place to start, but the reader, if unfamiliar with the history of our country’s many atrocities against its first people might miss much of the injustices referenced.
Recommended for mature 8th graders due to some mild content.