It is once again time to start reading the nominees for this year’s Virginia Readers’ Choice Award. I love reading my way through this list every year! There are always titles I missed when they first came out, and a great variety of books, so reading and talking about these titles is a great way to start off a new school year.
This is really an incredible book. As someone who is not inclined to love historical fiction, and also not inclined to love novels written in verse, I will admit that I chose it as one of the first from the list to read because I wanted to get it out of the way. I thought I would like it okay, but I didn’t expect to be as enthusiastic as I am about to be. As it turns out, I loved this book.
The story takes place in the United States, a few years after the end of the Vietnam War, and centers on a boy named Matt Pin. Matt grew up in Vietnam and was given by his mother to American soldiers as the war was ending. He has loving adoptive parents; a kind piano teacher and baseball coach; and a great pitching arm. But he also has intense, vivid memories of growing up surrounded by war; confusion and sadness about his mother’s choice to hand him to the soldiers, staying behind in Vietnam with his injured younger brother; and real problems with bullies who blame him for the war and the pain it has caused their families. This is a heavy load for a 12-year-old kid.
But here’s what I love about this story. It is a heavy load, no doubt, and the book doesn’t shy away from that. There are scenes from the war, Matt’s memories, that are tough to read and will be tough for sensitive readers. But there is nothing gratuitous, and I feel like Burg was very aware of her audience in writing this story. She was careful to convey the reality/horror in an appropriate way and realistic about Matt’s struggles in coping with his past, but she balanced these out with positive scenes and emotions that were just as realistic . The book is very readable for a wide range of kids; the simplicity of the language and verse form make it friendly for a kid who is not a huge reader, and the depth of emotion and complexity of the situation make it a great story for a more advanced reader. Highly recommended!
P.S. This is a great choice for kids who enjoyed Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I preferred this over that book; I felt like the verse form made more sense here than it did to me there, for some reason. But I have had kids who, on hearing me talk about All the Broken Pieces, say that they read and loved Inside Out & Back Again, and I think this is a great next read for them. I’ll be curious to hear how they compare the two.