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Cybils Verse Novels

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg.

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.
~Robert Frost

Both of these books fit Mr. Frost’s statement about poetry; they’re both about a sense of wrong, a homesickness, and a lovesickness. However, with the first, All the Broken Pieces, I got a lump in the throat. With the second, I only thought, “How interesting! Holocaust refugees in Cuba.”

I’m thinking that makes All the Broken Pieces better poetry. It’s also a more emotionally engaging story. Matt Pin, the narrator of the story, is the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier. His mother sends him on one of the last refugee flights out of VIetnam after the war so that he can live a life in country where he won’t suffer for being part American. However, Matt is never sure whether his “other mother” just wanted him to leave because of what happened to his little brother. Matt loves his “now father” and his “now mother,” but he’s not entirely sure they really will be there for him even if he disappoints them. So, Matt is sort of lost between cultures, not knowing where or how to belong. He also deals with prejudice, finds peace in playing music, and finds a way to excel as a pitcher on the school baseball team. Here’s a brief sample of the one of the story poems in this novel:

Music is soothing.

Music is not like words.

Words are messy.
Words spill out
like splattered blood,
oozing in every direction
leaving stains
that won’t come out
no matter how hard you scrub.

But not music.
Even when it’s so loud
you can’t hear anything else,
music lulls you to sleep.

Right now,
I need music.

Other bloggers on All the Broken Pieces: Reading Junky, A Year of Reading, Saecker at Kid’s Lit.

Tropical Secrets was also about a boy, Daniel, sent away by his parents for his safety. In this book the parents are Jews living in Hitler’s Germany. They scrape together all the funds they have to send their son to safety in another country, and Daniel ends up in Cuba. Daniel, like Matt, is unsure of himself and of how he fits into this new and strange-to-him culture. Like Matt, Daniel finds solace in music. Maybe I just didn’t identify with Daniel so strongly because the poems in the book are not all from David’s point of view. Some of the poems tell the story from the point of view of a Cuban girl, Paloma, and others from the elderly vantage point of David, a Jewish Russian refugee who has been in Cuba for many years.

Becky loved Tropical Secrets. Rasco from RIF says it’s a ” special experience from the illustrated cover to the final words.” Book Addict found it to be “very emotional.” Fuse #8 says it’s “a remarkable novel about an amazing and true moment you probably will not find in your average elementary school world history textbook.”

I just couldn’t get the feel of it, no lump in the throat.

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