IN HONOR OF BROKEN THINGS
"A wise, beautifully written and realistic story that breaks the reader’s heart and then works to mend it too."
-- Nancy Werlin, National Book Award finalist, Edgar Award winner, and NYT bestselling author
This book is a solid story of friendship…in a world of upheaval.” –SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
"A humorous and heart-wrenching read." – GIRL'S LIFE MAGAZINE
“Writing with insight and wit, Acampora portrays teens and adults as complicated, sometimes surprising people.” –BOOKLIST
“Reminiscent of Gary D. Schmidt’s sparse writing style, this book … shows that true friendship truly does have the power to heal.” –SCHOOL LIBRARY CONNECTION
Three students united by their respective family troubles form a supportive friendship circle in Acampora’s (Danny Constantino’s First (and maybe last?) Date) earnest narrative, which encourages vulnerability and acceptance. Ninth grader Oscar Villanueva, who is Mexican American, has just lost his younger sister to cancer; previously homeschooled eighth grader Noah Wright, who is white, decides to enroll in public school, spurred by his parents’ divorce; and fellow eighth grader Riley Baptiste, also white, has just moved to their small town of West Beacon, Pa., after her mother was held up at gunpoint. Though the students are outwardly very different—Oscar is a popular starting linebacker on the football team, Noah is extremely academically advanced, and Riley is quick to anger and thinks her fists can solve all her problems—they bond after meeting in a mixed-grade introductory clay class. Told in distinct and alternating POVs, the group grows closer over misshapen pottery as they admit weakness, navigate new experiences, and learn to accept help from others. Acampora approaches the characters’ struggles with levity and intentional thoughtfulness, making for a tender tale. Ages 8–12. Agent: Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow. (Mar.)
Oscar, Noah, and Riley meet in art class at the junior–senior high school in a once-flourishing town in Pennsylvania. A few weeks after the start of school and 10 days after his younger sister’s death, Oscar Villanueva returns to the classroom as the six-foot freshman who is expected to lead the football team to glory. That same day, Noah Wright, whose father has left the family, decides to stop homeschooling and escapes his mother’s tears by enrolling as an eighth-grader. Riley Baptiste and her mother recently moved from Philadelphia to Mom’s hometown. Different in their personalities and experiences, the three students form a fast, strong friendship that helps them deal with whatever comes their way. Their lives become increasingly intertwined as the novel unfolds. Writing with insight and wit, Acampora portrays teens and adults as complicated, sometimes surprising people. The first-person narration rotates, chapter by chapter, among Oscar, Noah, and Riley. While the ending ties up loose ends nicely, it will come too soon for readers intrigued by the main characters and their stories. — Carolyn Phelan
Navigating the chaos and social groups of adolescent life is difficult, but good friends can help, even friends who see themselves as “broken.” Fourteen-year-old Oscar, football star at West Beacon Junior/Senior High School (go Mighty Mules!), has recently lost his younger sister to cancer. Riley, who contends with issues of anxiety and anger, has recently moved with her single mother back to Mom’s hometown. Noah—spelling bee champ, artist extraordinaire, and mathlete—is dealing with his parents’ separation. Both Noah and Riley are new to West Beacon; Oscar, returning to school two and a half weeks after his sister’s funeral, doesn’t want to hang with the cool kids anymore (he feels more like he’s the only member of the “your-little-sister-just-died-and-now-you-sort-of-hate-everybody club”). In Mr. Martin’s clay class, the three find themselves forming the group they all need. Clay becomes the central metaphor of the story—that which can be created; broken objects that can be fixed, and the things that can’t, such as sisters dying, robberies, and families changing. With brokenness as a theme, crushing sadness could have sunk the narrative, but Acampora (Confusion Is Nothing New, rev. 7/18) leavens the story with Noah’s humor, Riley’s tell-it-like-it-is feistiness, and Oscar’s openness to receiving help. – Dean Schneider
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Gr 3-7–Oscar’s, Riley’s, and Noah’s lives intersect when they meet in their Introduction to Clay class at West Beacon Junior/Senior High School. Each teen is learning to navigate junior high while also coping with personal struggles. Oscar faces the trauma of losing his sister to cancer. Noah’s parents are divorcing, and he is just starting public school after years of homeschooling. Riley has recently moved to West Beacon, her mom’s small hometown, after a robbery at her mother’s workplace in Philadelphia. This book is a solid story of friendship that grows between the three teens, all of whom need a strong foundation in a world of upheaval. Riley, Noah, and Oscar learn that friendship means showing up and being reliable. The characters are multidimensional and compelling, and the plot includes some unexpected turns as the friends find that some wounds may not heal. Despite these twists, the book has a hopeful ending, leaving readers eager to learn more about the characters.
VERDICT A multifaceted, realistic fiction tale that connects the pottery the students are creating to what’s going on in their lives using metaphors of art and life. –April Crowder
SCHOOL LIBRARY CONNECTION
Reminiscent of Gary D. Schmidt’s sparse writing style, this book features voices from three perspectives: Oscar Villanueva, a Mexican American star football player with the Mighty Mules; Noah Wright, the insightful son of recently divorced potters and former home schooler; and Riley Baptiste, a white transplant from Philadelphia to her mother’s small hometown, a coal mining area of upstate Pennsylvania. The key players of this story are all in either eighth or ninth grade and they all find themselves in an introduction to pottery class under the tutelage of the kind but clumsy Mr. Martin. Here the characters are introduced to raku, a style of Japanese pottery that results in a cracked finish. Each of the narrators have their separate sorrows that allow them to lean on each other for support. Topping the list is the recent death of Oscar’s 12-year-old sister, Carmen, from leukemia. Noah doesn’t know what to do about his mother’s depression after his dad walks out, and Riley feels like her mother gave up on big-city life after a workplace robbery. In Oscar’s vulnerable state, he is open to the friendship of these two new students. Moreover, Noah is adamant that the group members support each other. The action climaxes as the big Thanksgiving game approaches in this football-obsessed town. When Riley’s mother hits Oscar with her car and puts him out of commission for the playoff game, even Riley’s uncle, the affable and generous parish priest, runs interference (metaphorically) for Oscar against the school principal. This realistic fiction work shows that true friendship truly does have the power to heal. The characters, both major and minor, seem authentic and the dialogue carries some humor. The pat ending seems rushed and unrealistic—would all the adults and the young people really get together to save Noah’s mother’s pottery business?—particularly the final paragraph where the title and its meaning get overexplained. Barring this resolution, the story is a fine testament to kindness, friendship, and positive parent-child relationships. Recommended. – Bernadette Cooke, Teacher-Librarian, Julia R. Masterman School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania