All the Broken Pieces, by Ann Burg–plus the blog has a new name!

22Oct09

I was not the only Book Pirate out there, and it was making me mad. So now I am books vs. dinosaurs!, and I have a gimmick. For each book, instead of a starred rating, I will decide the outcome of a fight between the book in question and a dinosaur. If the book wins, it was awesome. If the dinosaur wins, the book was not that great. The size and type of the dinosaur will vary, according to the book. Capiche? I know, weird.

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Ann Burg’s novel-in-verse, All the Broken Pieces, is about Matt Pin, an adopted Vietnamese twelve-year-old with fresh memories of the Vietnam War. Matt is technically half Vietnamese and half American (his father was a G.I.), but no one in his small town sees the American side of him. He was adopted as a ten-year-old; one can only imagine the things he saw during the war. All the Broken Pieces is set in 1977, and most of the G.I.s had already come home.

Matt does not have an easy life, even though he has a wonderful, caring family that loves him. He constantly thinks about the mother and brother he left behind. He tortures himself with thoughts that his new mother and father are going to send him away. Eventually, Matt finds solace in an unlikely place: talking to a group of Vietnam vets about their experiences in his home country.

I really, really did not want to read this book, but it’s on the list for a Mock Newbery Club I am part of, so I kind of had to read it. Reason 1 for my hesitancy: the cover features a picture of a baseball. “Oh no,” I internally groaned. “Not a book about sports.” Reason 2: it’s a novel-in-verse. I am not a fan of poetry or verse… it usually seems too sparse for me.

Ok. Reason 1 was sort of an issue, because a good majority of the book takes place at Matt’s baseball games and practices. I’m not big on sports metaphors.

Reason 2 was only minorly an issue, and it was mostly in my head. I tend to think that when people write in verse, they do it to seem fancier than they really are. In my opinion (OPINION), it could potentially be a sign of pretention. I was trying to evaluate this book by Newbery standards, and I was having a hard time because of the verse. Just because something is in verse does not mean it is well-written. To me, it’s sort of a smoke screen (“Don’t look at my lack of writing skill! It’s a poem that doesn’t rhyme! Alakazam!”). I was also aware of the verse structure, which took away from my enjoyment of the book.

Did I like the book? I certainly responded to it emotionally. My dad is a Vietnam veteran, and I don’t even know the extent of what he went through over there. I definitely teared up a few times during the passages about Matt at the veterans’ group. The ending (which I won’t ruin) is hopeful and left me wondering where Matt is today. (He would be forty-four.)

Some librarians and other book folk say that novels-in-verse are good for reluctant readers because they are typically easy and fast to read. I’m not sure about that. I was reluctant to read this book, and I love reading! I will say this, though: there are not enough books about the Vietnam War. Or Cambodia. I think we are far enough past the 1970s to be able to write candidly and creatively about this difficult period.

All in all, I appreciated Burg’s effort (it’s her first novel) and willingness to tackle a difficult subject. It’s hard to fit so much emotion into not very many words.

The book won this one, but not by much. It might have gotten nibbled on by a compsognathus for a while.

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2 Responses to “All the Broken Pieces, by Ann Burg–plus the blog has a new name!”

  1. 1 Marc

    You know what would be awesome? If you photoshopped the dinosaurs in. Like, for this one, if there was a little dinosaur nibbling on the corner of the book cover, that would be funny. It's your gimmick! Go all out!

  2. 2 painted lady

    oooh good call, dude.


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