Hearts Unbroken

Cover design by Pamela Consolazio

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2018, 2020). Ages 14-up. Also published by Sooriya Books (Sri Lanka), Thorndike Press (large-print edition), and Walker Australia and New Zealand.

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?

Read an excerpt of HEARTS UNBROKEN from Candlewick Press.

Audio Edition Voice Actor: Kyla Garcia (Listening Library, 2023):

HARVEST HOUSE (Candlewick, 2023)(Listening Library, 2023), HEARTS UNBROKEN  (Candlewick, 2018, 2020)(Listening Library, 2023), and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001)(Heartdrum, 2021)(Harper Audio, 2022) are set in the same universe.

Order HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Depending on the title, Cynthia’s books may be found from Native bookstores like Birchbark Books and Native Arts and Red Planet Books and Comics, her local independent BookPeople in Austin, other terrific Texas bookstores like Blue Willow Bookshop and Brazos Bookstore, retail sites supporting indie bookstores like BookShop (Affiliate), IndieBound and (audio books), brick-and-mortar chains like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, and online retailer (Author Central).

Awards & Honors

More Information

HEARTS UNBROKEN is the 2020 winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award in the young adult category. The award is given every two years by the American Indian Library Association.

HEARTS UNBROKEN was named the 2018 Foreword Reviews Silver Medal Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction. PEEK: “At a time when the trade media devoted nearly all its attention on the larger corporate publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster, the debut of Foreword Reviews introduced a new stream of quality reviews of independently published books to the wholesalers and distributors where booksellers and librarians order their books.”

2019 Amelia Bloomer List (Young Adult Fiction) from The Amelia Bloomer Project, an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18, from the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.

HEARTS UNBROKEN was chosen as the fall 2018 YA read for the NIEA Book Club by the National Indian Education Association, the leading education advocate for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students.

HEARTS UNBROKEN was chosen as a 2019 Kansas NEA Reading Circle YA Section by the Kansas National Education Association.

HEARTS UNBROKEN was chosen for the Just One More Page Recommendation List, compiled by the Wisconsin State Reading Association Children’s Literature Committee for the 2019 Convention from titles published between September 2017-December 2018.


 “Absorbing….Blending teen romance with complex questions of identity, equality, and censorship, this is an excellent choice…” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Smith’s story about first loves, missteps, and lessons learned is a delight.” —Angeline Boulley, Publishers Weekly (10 Essential Books for Teens by Indigenous Authors)

“…the most vivid, timely, gut-wrenchingly realistic YA novel…this finely-crafted book; HEARTS UNBROKEN promises to foster rich intellectual conversations in our scholarship and our classrooms. Smith’s novel will also be a breath of fresh air to her young readers from Indigenous and other oppressed communities whose experiences—both joyful and painful—are affirmed by this book.” —Mandy Suhr-Sytsma, Studies in American Indian Literatures (Vol. 32, Nos. 1-2, spring-summer 2020)

“…a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Sure to inspire interesting classroom discussions, this is a must-have for all collections.”  —Teen Librarian Toolbox at SLJ

“…lively, illuminating novel…explores difficult truths and hard decisions even as it entertains.” —CCBC (Book of the Week, Nov. 25, 2018)(read the whole review)

“…Smith’s narrative is thought provoking and candid, with touches of humor that make Louise a very likeable character.”  —Lisa Krok at The Hub from YALSA, QP2019Nominees

“…the book offers a brave and layered look at the complexities of identity and the missteps that are so easy to make in navigating your own and that of others along the way.” —Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker

“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

“…a thought-provoking work of realistic teen fiction.” —Publishers Weekly

“Smith effectively presents the continuous microaggressions Lou faces as a young Native woman alongside the central narrative arc of the school play.” —The Horn Book

“Highly recommended! There’s so much love and warmth and reality all through HEARTS UNBROKEN And so much hope! And some absolutely terrific ground-breaking moves!” —Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature (read the whole review)

“…a wonderful story about identity, censorship, the erasure and stereotyping of Native Americans, and the challenges of romantic relationships when you have to protect your heart at all costs. An engaging addition to school, home, and classroom collections seeking more #ownvoices books featuring contemporary Native experiences and stories, drama and journalism nerds, or any reader looking for an empowered, complex heroine like Lou.” —Donalyn Miller at The Nerdy Book Club (read the whole review)

“This is a fantastic novel that provides romance and laughs, but will also give readers plenty to think about.” —Rich in Color (read the whole review)

“HEARTS UNBROKEN is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant.” —children’s librarian Rosemary Kiladitis from Mom Read It (read the whole review)

“HEARTS UNBROKEN is a necessary reflection on race and prejudice — and the teens who are affected by it and fighting it.” —Cristina Arreola from Bustle

Literary Commentary

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Kyla Garcia from AudioFile Magazine Podcast.

HEARTS UNBROKEN: A Young Adult #CreekVoices Tale of Love and Hate by F. Fallon Farokhi from The Story Spectator. PEEK: “This is a powerful moment where readers can decide what to do and say when they realize that their families have racist or prejudiced opinions about others.”

Teaching Hard History from Learning for Justice. PEEK: “She’s talking about defending tribal sovereignty, but she’s also talking about the Indian Child Welfare Act. In the United States, there’s a long history of white social service. People deciding that Native families can’t take care of Native children, and those Native children were removed from those homes. There’s horrific stories of how those kinds of removals took place.”

Weekend Pick for Aug. 7: HEARTS UNBROKEN Recommendation by Steve Bickmore from Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday Weekend Picks for 2020. PEEK: “There are so many superb things going on is this book. It is hard to land on just one. Every time I hear in the news the phrase  ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I want to spin out of my chair. How quick we are to forget. ”


Native Stories: Books for Tweens and Teens By and About Indigenous People by Debbie Reese and Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. PEEK: “HEARTS UNBROKEN is a standout not just for the realistic characters but also for the way Smith lays bare the underbelly of life in many towns and schools where students navigate stereotyping and racism.”

November 2019 Teen Book of the Month in celebration of Read Across America’s “Grow Gratitude” Month.

2019 We Are Kid Lit Summer Reading List from the We Are Kid Lit Collective.

Best Books of 2018 for Young Readers from Ebony Elizabeth Thomas at Penn Graduate School of Education.

2018 Nerdies in YA Fiction from Donalyn Miller at The Nerdy Book Club.

2018 Activist Books from M Is for Movement.

Must-Reads of 2018 from We Need Diverse Books at Goodreads.

Best Books of 2018 from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Favorites of 2018 from Crystal at Rich In Color.

#ReadYourWorld Book Jam of 2019 from Multicultural Children’s Book Day and Children’s Book Council. SEE ALSO Own Voices Young Adult Novels about Native Teens, compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

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.

5 YA Stories Featuring Native Characters to Read This November from Book Page. PEEK: “Through Lou’s funny and honest narration, readers will gain some valuable insight….. Although this read deals with plenty of heavy cultural issues, Smith balances the main plot with a poignant romance….”

Authentically Representing American Indians by Sonja Cole from Booklist. PEEK: “All Native children deserve to have books that respect who they are and who their ancestors were. This list below provides a starting point for more authentic representations of American Indians and First Nations people in children’s books.”

Power, Agency, andd HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. PEEK: “…articulates questions about representation and voice and the human tendency to pronounce judgment with limited information. Questions about history and privilege, about who has power and why. Questions that push back against the daily indignities, large and small, so often inflicted upon minorities in America, and push back as well on commonly held historical myths and emblems of public nostalgia.”

Cover Blurbs

“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

Cover Art 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 impact 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.

A Book of My Heart: Joy Interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith from Brazos Bookstore. PEEK: “…we do not separate art and artists. So, we each must decide. What bad behavior crosses the line for each us? Who do we want to support with our money? Who do we want to hold up to children and teens as a voice that matters?”

Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Peek: “…these tips should help hedge your bets in writing ‘contemporary’ realistic fiction that doesn’t skew historical too soon.”

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Crystal from Rich in Color. Peek: “As I drafted scenes, I was aware of exactly how they’d resonate with many Native teens and, to varying degrees, alienate many influential, non-Indian adults. I kept typing anyway.”

The Heart of Cynthia Leitich Smith by Amanda West Lewis from Wild Things: VCFA MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Blog. Peek: “I crafted a love story juxtaposed against microaggressions and their escalation. A story that’s infused with humor and community and lived experience as a middle class Native teen.”

Let’s Indigenize Our Bookshelves and Fully Welcome Native Kids as Readers by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “I understood from a very young age that the Native part of myself didn’t seem to belong in the world of readers. (Did we send that message to all Native kids? Do we still? At what cost to them and to their non-Indian friends…).”

HEARTS UNBROKEN: Writing Stories Loosely Inspired by Your Real Life by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I’m not my protagonist, Louise. He’s not her love interest, Joey. But we have a few things in common with them—the northeast Kansas suburbs of our adolescence, our respective heritages. We were both student journalists, and so are they. But his dad wasn’t a commercial pilot and mine wasn’t a dentist. His mom didn’t work for Hallmark and mine didn’t earn an MA/JD. I didn’t have a little brother, and he didn’t drive a Jeep. Unlike Louise and Joey, we didn’t live in a post-9/11 world or during the Trump administration.” See also HEARTS UNBROKEN craft posts on Writing (Sort Of) Timeless Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Writing Well-Rounded Secondary Characters, and Writing Teen Love, Romance, Passion!

Texas Book Festival 2018 Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith by ChinLin Pan from Geek Gals. PEEK: “I do a lot of pre-writing. If possible, I visit the setting, talk to people there. Then, I collect or create maps. I prepare menus and watch documentaries and read research books. I take a lot of photos. In sum, I submerge.”

Seven Authors Discuss Complicated Families, Epic Love Stories, and More in October’s YA Open Mic by Michael Waters from BNTeenBlog. PEEK from Cynthia Leitich Smith: “I felt awful for a good, long time. Decades. Not that my regret mattered more than the hurt I caused. My new novel, HEARTS UNBROKEN, sprang from that experience.”

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.

Media Buzz

6 Diverse Voices to Add to Your Reading List by Megan Stolz from Amendo. “Native writers are often forgotten even in discussions of diverse writers, and I appreciated spending time with a protagonist who is a Native teen living in suburban America today, which busts the stereotype of Native Americans only living on reservations or tribal lands.”

Native Romance by Native Authors by Christina Berry from Residence 11. PEEK: “HEARTS UNBROKEN is one of the best Native books I’ve read in a while. More young adult than romance, it’s a story about a young woman dealing with racism on a macro and micro scale. Really great read.”

15 YA Books Like Firekeeper’s Daughter by Abigail Clarkin from Book Riot. PEEK: “From Own Voices authors sharing the stories and traditions of their Native cultures, to themes of sacrifice, the search for justice, and high stakes mystery, I’ve compiled a list of young adult books like Firekeeper’s Daughter.”

16 Books for National Native American Heritage Month from K-12 Talk at W.W. Norton & Co. Honored to spot a few of my books and Heartdrum titles in such lovely company.

Five Books About Race That Every Teen Should Read by Sarah J. Donovan from NewsOne. PEEK: “Books offer a way for educators and parents to engage students on a particular topic over an extended period of time. They also enable young people to imagine possibilities and rehearse for how to confront inequities in society.”

2021 Summer Reading List Lets Young Adults Explore Different Worlds by Paradise Afshar of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. PEEK: “Dating isn’t easy as a teen, and Louise Wolfe is slowly learning this reality.”

10 Must-Read Quotes and Books from Indigenous Authors by Kaytie Norman from Early Bird Books. PEEK: “Breaking up with her boyfriend after he mocked Native people was easy enough—but when the school decides to put on a production of The Wizard of Oz with colorblind casting, she’s in for a lot more drama.”

Six Diverse Voices to Add to Your Reading List by Megan Stolz from Amendo. PEEK: “…I appreciated spending time with a protagonist who is a Native teen living in suburban America today, which busts the stereotype of Native Americans only living on reservations or tribal lands.”

Seven Native-Centered Books for Teaching K-12 Students by Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. PEEK: “Certainly, with increasing awareness of social and racial justice, many librarians and teachers are using Native-centered books in their instruction, and not just for cultural learning or social studies.”

Summer 2020 YA Paperbacks by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot.

50 States of YA by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. CYN NOTE: HEARTS UNBROKEN represents Kansas.

23 YA Romance Novels That Are Better Than a Candlelit Dinner by Rachel Strolle from Buzzfeed. PEEK: “…as tensions mount in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town, sparks begin to fly between Louise and Joey.”

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.”

15 Exciting New YA Books for October 2018 by Kate Oldfield from United by Pop. PEEK: “Saying October might be one of 2018’s best bookish months might be a bold statement to make but October might be one of 2018’s best bookish months.”

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.”

36 of October’s Best New Young Adult Books by Dahlia Adler from BNTeenBlog. PEEK: “…I try to not to make grand statements like ‘This is maybe the best YA publishing month of all time,’ but…”.

Spotted on 'Saturday Night Live'
HEARTS UNBROKEN appears on a shelf near cast member Aidy Bryant on the Feb. 8, 2020 episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
Mvskoke Language Audio Files

For pronunciations, click to access audio of the Mvskoke language that appears in HEARTS UNBROKEN. In the story, Louise and Hughie are Mvskoke language learners based in suburban northeast Kansas, so I chose sources that would be accessible to them. Those sources are The College of the Muscogee Nation, the Muscogee Nation, and the Muscogee Nation Language App.

Vca fvckes: I am happy (MNLA/Describe People)

Cokv kerretv heret os: Learning is good (CMN)

Cokvheckv omvlkat enakes: Education for all (CMN)

cvtv hakv: blue bread (MNLA/Traditional Food)

Estonko? How are you? (MN)

Estvmin like cet towa? Where do you live? (MN)

Here mahe: I’m doing fine (MN)

hesci: hello (CMN)

hotvle rakko: tornado (MNLA/Nature)

Lekothe tos: It is warm (MNLA/Weather)

mvto: thank you (MNLA/Words)

Oren hiye tos: It is very hot (MNLA/Weather)

Pu fvckvkes: We are happy (MNLA/Describe People)

Yvhiketv cvyace tos: I like to sing (MNLA/Action Phrases)

Text Update

A change was made to the text of HEARTS UNBROKEN. This was in response to the new style guide from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The style-guide announcement was made too late for the initial hardcover release, but updated language is now in place.

This was the edit to the bottom of pg. 84. It originally read: “Other than her younger sister, Alexis was the only known Mormon student at EHHS.”

It now reads: “Other than her younger sister, Alexis was the only known student at EHHS who was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Educators, if your copy doesn’t reflect this text update, please reference it in your discussions. Please also copy, print and tuck this note into the book on the shelf.

Book Club, Educational & Media Resources

Educator Guide: HEARTS UNBROKEN, written by Andrea Page (Lakota – Standing Rock), edited by AJ Eversole, designed by Bree Bender. Includes discussion questions and curriculum connections.

Parent/Family Discussion Guide: HEARTS UNBROKEN from the Anti-Defamation League. Includes conversation starters, talking points, additional reading recommendations, and resources.

Educator Guide: HEARTS UNBROKEN from the Anti-Defamation League. Includes themes, key words, discussion questions, extension activities, and resources.

2021 Teen All Iowa Reads Shortlist Programming Guide: HEARTS UNBROKEN from Iowa Center for the Book.

Native Heritage Month: Stereotypes Still Unbroken by Michael M. Guevara from Perfection Learning. Peek: “Many of the conflicts and misunderstandings stem from a lack of knowledge and experience. This November, American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month can serve as the catalyst to providing students with texts by and about Native Americans. HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith is an excellent start.”

Media Kit for HEARTS UNBROKEN, including Author’s Note by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Candlewick Press.

American Indian Library Association’s Children’s and MG-YA Booklists.

Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s and Young Adult Books: Overview from CYALR.

Diversifying Your Classroom Books Collection? Avoid These 7 Pitfalls from Kara Newhouse from KQED. PEEK: “…seven pitfalls to avoid when deciding what to leave in and out, accompanied by more than 50 title recommendations based on conversations in this piece to help kickstart the journey.”

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Native American Children’s and Young Adult Books from CYALR.

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