Hearts Unbroken

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Oct. 9, 2018)

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off immediately and dumps him.

It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time on 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 heighten 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 loved her irreverent, hilarious, and subversive dismantling of stereotypes. Cyn’s trademark, spot-on dialogue captures the teen spirit perfectly. I want Lou to be my best friend!” —An Na, author of A STEP FROM HEAVEN, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and a National Book Award finalist

“HEARTS UNBROKEN is a rare blend of teenage romance and social consciousness that never insults the intelligence of its readers. Truly shows what life is like for a contemporary American Indian teeenager trying to fit into the larger context of American society.” —Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), author of CODE TALKER

“Smart, quirky, and slightly flawed, Louise Wolfe is like a lot of teenage girls in America. Cynthia Leitich Smith has crafted a heartfelt book with an important message about loyalty, intepersonal connections, and the power of love to tear down barriers. This story will dissolve boundaries and knock down walls.” —Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Pura Belpré Author Award Winner for UNDER THE MESQUITE

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Cover Thoughts
What I adore about this cover is that it’s so unabashedly casual and contemporary. Accessible and inviting. Modern depictions of Native teens, especially girls, are rare. Showing a character in a T-shirt and jeans, simply standing, comfortably relaxed, is fairly revolutionary.

Centering the T-shirt imagery is something I discussed with my Candlewick editor, Hilary Van Dusen, who was working with Pamela Consolazio, the jacket designer. To me, the art vaguely suggests the feel of a powwow T-shirt. So, it’s grounded in daily life, but intentionally not groundbreaking. You’d find a few similar Ts in my closet.

On another note, I’m glad that the design largely leaves facial casting to the young reader’s imagination. I love the covers of two of my previous novels, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), both of which clearly show the face of the protagonist. But prose novels are such deeply interior experiences. Sometimes it’s best for young adults to envision the story, including its hero, in their own theaters of the mind.

Beyond that, I highly approved of the decision to use a teen-friendly handwriting font for “Hearts” and a firmer, more formal one for “Unbroken.” When I think of real-life teens like my fictional Louise, I am optimistic about the future. Young Native hearts are strong.

Author Insights

HEARTS UNBROKEN began as a long overdue apology to a high school boyfriend.

We’d met as teen journalists. I was a reporter. He was a photographer. One who’d recently quit varsity football in favor of the student newspaper and weathered the social fallout. I was impressed, charmed. We quickly bonded over brainy movies, classic Ford Mustangs, and our shared love of storytelling.

Then one cloudy afternoon, in a fit of adolescent nerves, I stammered the worst possible thing with the best possible intentions. In attempting to take our relationship to the next level, I’d deeply insulted him instead.

Today, I’d say the imnpact of my words was far more important than my intent. But as a fumbling, flailing teenager, it had all felt so much more complicated.

In writing the novel, I crafted scenes wherein a character either says something that’s problematic or stays silent when they (perhaps) shouldn’t. The various instances are contextualized with pushback approximately mirroring the intensity of what’s said (or not said).

My hope is that, as a result, YA readers will weigh the impact of their own voices, will take redemptive action as needed, and will better understand themselves and each other.

On one level, HEARTS UNBROKEN is an exploration of speech–journalistic, political, artistic, religious, and interpersonal as well as speech rooted in hate. On another, it’s a romantic story about two teenage reporters asking whether everyone deserves a chance at the spotlight.

Podcast Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith on HEARTS UNBROKEN by Travis Jonker from The Yarn at School Library Journal. PEEK: “I don’t know if I could have written this novel five years ago.”

Four Native YA Authors on Their Message for Teens by Alia Jones from School Library Journal. CYN NOTE: Interview features Joseph Bruchac, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley and Cynthia Leitich Smith. Article is free, but requires email registration to view.

Buzz & Reviews

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. PEEK: “There’s so much love and warmth and reality all through HEARTS UNBROKEN And so much hope! And some absolutely terrific ground-breaking moves!”

“This insightful, complex take on a difficult topic…. Even considering its seriousness, the novel is fun to read, with charming characters and a nicely balanced teen romance. Thought-provoking and engaging, HEARTS UNBROKEN will leave its young adult audience with a great deal to consider.” – The Foreword

“In a time when #ownvoices stories are rising in popularity among YA readers, this brings an insightful story to the conversation…this is truly a thought-provoking and educational novel.” – Booklist

2018 Summer Middle Grade & YA Book List by Naomi Bishop from the American Indian Library Association. CYN NOTE: Deeply honored to see HEARTS UNBROKEN on this list; please click for recommendations of additional books by Native authors and illustrators.

Our Most Anticipated Contemporary YA Novels of 2018: July to December by Dahlia Adler from BNTEENblog. PEEK: “HEARTS UNBROKEN… It’s an excellent year for Native YA fiction, capped off by the return of Smith’s first since 2001’s RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME.”

11 Upcoming Romantic YA Novels That Might Just Be Your New Favorite Rom-Com by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. PEEK: “From New York City meet-cutes to falling in love in small towns, there is something here that will get those butterflies in your stomach fluttering around. And, hopefully, will get the attention of the next Hollywood exec looking to bring YA love stories to the big screen.”

27 New Young Adult Books That Need to Be On Your Radar by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. PEEK: “…there is nothing more fun as a reader than making a seasonal TBR of all the books you are pumped to read in the coming months, but especially when there is so much to choose from…. These books are the absolute must-reads.”

Oct. 2018 | 978-0-7636-8114-2  | Candlewick Press | Hardcover | YA Novel/Fiction | Interior Design Elements | 304 Pages | Ages 14-up | Other Editions: