Monday, October 5, 2009

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

First Impressions.

I found this to be just as moving on my second read-through. My heart was in my throat the entire time. For such a slim book it packs a strong emotional punch and I think the decision to write this book in verse was a good one. One often wonders (or should I say I often wonder) why an author chooses to write their book in verse instead of prose. In this case, I think it is to whittle the story down to its emotional core, to make the writing as spare as possible, so that Matt’s voice – his quiet inner voice – is heard. I’ve seen it referred to as haunting in other reviews. I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. It is haunting, lyrical, simply put it is beautiful.

He never saw my face.
But she was already swelled
with love for him when he left,
taking with him
his blue-eyed promise
that it would not end there,
with the smell of burnt flesh
and the sound of crying children.

I will come back,
you said,
and she believed you.

Whether he is speaking of the father he’s never met, or of the family he left behind, or of the baseball game he is playing – Matt’s voice is strong despite the pain he feels. It is his voice that makes such a connection with the reader.

Matt is two years into his new life as an American and he is struggling. Struggling to come to terms with an entire life lived in a warzone, to come to terms with what happened in his old life, while at the same time figuring out where he fits in his new family.

He suffers from nightmares, from feeling unloved and abandoned by his birthmother, from feeling scared that his new family doesn’t want him anymore. His story neatly parallels those of the Vietnam Veterans who came back to a world where things were not as they expected. Burg does a fantastic job making this not only Matt’s story of healing, but also the healing of the wider U.S. population. After all, there were few families that were not affected by the Vietnam War.

The war changed
all of us, Matt.
Whether we went,
or whether we stayed,
the war changed us all.

If I have one hesitation about this book, it would be that Matt’s adoptive parents are so wonderful. They are amazingly understanding, they work tirelessly for him, helping him to come to terms with his life, finding outlets for his expression – baseball, piano – and finally a veterans group that a family friend (also his piano teacher) invites him to attend. Personally, I have no problem with how they were portrayed, but I feel as though some might feel that they were too empathetic, too perfect. I was just grateful that they were there to accompany Matt on his journey of healing and his discovery of a life worth living.

I think this one has a good chance of being an Honor book on either/both the Newbery or Printz lists.

Book Source: Library Copy

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