It feels great to be writing an actual book review again! I’ll admit, I just haven’t been reading nearly a ton lately– even though my TBR pile would paint you an entirely different picture. I’ll blame grad school.
I was, however, lucky enough to win a copy of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s excellent novel Hearts Unbroken last month thanks to a giveaway from Boogie Down Books, and when I read the synopsis on the back, I’m pretty sure I let out an internal sigh of “FINALLY.”
When trying to compile a booklist for Native American Heritage Month last year, I found myself infinitely frustrated by the resources available. That’s not to say there was a lack of trying– my supervisor in the library was (and still is!) great at staying on top of what areas of the collection need improvement, and even when I did a search of Amazon there just seemed to be nothing out there beyond what we already had.
Which is why I was so excited to read Hearts Unbroken. It’s getting easier and easier to find more diverse literature out there, but it’s still so hard to find Native American stories that aren’t decades old, let alone those written by Native American voices. Cynthia Leitich Smith created a relatable protagonist in Louise, and refused to beat around the bush when it came to what made her tick. As she grapples with a lot of the same issues as other teenagers– relationships, school, and the like– she also deals with a lot of (much more complex) issues regarding her identity as a Native American.
In a relatively short amount of time, Smith was able to address many of the nuances that come with occupying a marginalized space in American society. The casual ignorance that people in the United States seem to possess was already mind-boggling to me as a white person, but reading about that same ignorance (not to mention flat-out racism) from a Native American perspective was eye-opening, to say the very least.
I truly hope this book goes on to a ton of success, because this is the kind of story we need to see more of. Even though there has been a huge increase in representative YA literature in the last several years (and I am not complaining by any means), stories about Native Americans have felt pretty lacking. I know as a teenager, I learned a lot about different cultures and prejudices from the books I read, and hopefully books like Hearts Unbroken will challenge teenagers (and adults!) in 2018 to perhaps question the societal norms around them.
I look forward to reading more from Cynthia Leitich Smith (starting with her middle-grade novels, which just got added to my TBR list), and I can only hope that YA publishers seek out more stories from Native American voices, because these stories are critically important. And to my fellow white people…once again, I beg of you, just shut up and listen.
You can buy Hearts Unbroken on Amazon here! Or, better yet, go buy it from a local independent bookstore or borrow it from your library.