All The Broken Pieces – Ann E. Burg
Matt Pin would like to forget: war torn Vietnam, bombs that fell like dead crows, and the terrible secret he left behind. But now that he is living with a caring adoptive family in the United States, he finds himself forced to confront his past. And that means choosing between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.
Review: First, I have to admit that the cover of this book is a huge turn off for me. I’m not a sports fan. I don’t enjoy watching sports, and I definitely don’t enjoy reading about them. The cover is the reason this book sat on my To-Be-Read shelf for months before I picked it up. But, I shouldn’t have been afraid of the baseball for so long. This is an excellent novel-in-verse.
Eleven-year-old Matt Pin is airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam and sent to the US to live with an adoptive family. He loves his adopted family, but he still thinks about his mother and brother in Vietnam. Are they alive? With the help of his parents and baseball coaches, Matt is able to process what happened to him in Vietnam and face the bullies at his school.
This book is very honest. The poetry cuts through all the crap and gets right to the point: Matt feels guilty about everything. He pretty much feels responsible for the whole Vietnam War. He thinks it’s his fault that his mother and brother couldn’t get out of Vietnam. He’s upset about all the people who died. His brother stepped on a landmine, and Matt blames himself for it. I think Matt’s guilt is realistic. He doesn’t understand why he survived unscathed when so many other people didn’t. He can’t put his feelings about the war into words.
“Words are messy,
words are all you've got
to show what matters most.” – All the Broken Pieces
Matt is also confused about his adoptive family. He doesn’t know why they want him, and he keeps expecting them to send him back to Vietnam. There’s a lot going on inside this kid’s head. I think the author handles it all very well. It doesn’t come across as a constant self-pity-party, but it’s a big enough aspect of the story that the reader feels bad for Matt.
I love that adults play such a big role in the novel. Matt is surrounded by a supportive community. He has his parents, his baseball coaches, his piano teacher, and the Vietnam veterans he befriends. It’s unusual to see so many adults in a children’s story.
“Maybe the Americans should have brought baseballs instead of bombs.” – All the Broken Pieces
“Music is not simply playing notes. You have to play the silence too.” – All the Broken Pieces
I have the same problems with this book that I have with most novels-in-verse. Since verse strips away everything except the most basic elements of the story, the side characters are underdeveloped. Matt is vivid and complex, but everyone else is just kind of . . . there.
And, why couldn’t this book be longer? There are parts of it that are so interesting! I want to know more about Matt right after he came to the US. When we see him in the novel, he’s settled in with his adoptive parents and speaks perfect English. I assume there was some kind of transition period? What was that like?
Another issue I have with novels-in-verse is that the verse doesn’t always read like verse. It reads like chopped-up prose. I have that issue with this book. I wish the author had done more with language and the structure of the poems. Maybe that’s hard to do when the target audience is children. The poems can’t be too weird.
Despite my complaints, I really like Matt, and I really like this book. It’s an honest examination of the wide-ranging effects of war and how hard it is to put your life back together after war tears it apart.
“There is darkness on the water.
There is darkness on the land.
There is darkness all around us,
but I will hold your hand.” – All the Broken Pieces