Josiah's Reviews > All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
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Jan 30, 10

Read from January 29 to 30, 2010

"There is darkness on the water.
There is darkness on the land.
There is darkness all around us,
but I will hold your hand.

You are safe, my precious child.
You are safe now, you are home.
We have found you and we love you.
You will never be alone."

All the Broken Pieces, PP. 11-12

The feel of this book in general will be familiar to readers who loved Karen Hesse's Newbery Medal-winning Out of the Dust. The verse flows forth unimpeded, gently and quietly introducing the story of Matt Pin, a boy who was rescued from Vietnam under some of the most horrible circumstances imaginable.

2009 seems to have been an unusually good year for first-time novelists, and Ann E. Burg's contribution to that favorable trend is perhaps the best of them all. Books in verse tend to have a lighter touch than straightforward prose, even when dealing with emotional and weighty matters such as those confronted in All the Broken Pieces, and this is a somewhat new feel for young adult literature about the Vietnam War; it contrasts markedly with the nearly unbearable gritty starkness of Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, for example. The details of Matt's sojourn aren't completely known until right near the end of the story, but just within the first few pages we can see that he is weighed down by deep guilt over what happened with his family in Vietnam, that he blames himself for some of the most terrible things that happened, and that even after being resettled in the United States with an American family that loves him, those issues will not go away quietly. His new American classmates won't forget what happened either; they lost family and friends in Vietnam, and Vietnamese Matt gives them the opportunity to put a face on all that loss. His presence gives them a human target upon which to vent their anger, a person to look at and tell themselves, "He is the reason that this happened. It's his fault."

All the Broken Pieces is multilayered in its drive, and each layer surrounds and builds on the others to give the story its power. What comes to the surface again and again, though, are the emotions of the people involved, and the ways that they demonstrate and handle these emotions the best way that they know how, sometimes appropriately and other times unfairly. What everyone seems to have in common is their emotional scars, scars from a war that changed them all from the inside out and made them see the world differently, scars that won't allow them to feel peace even though, for most of them, the losses of Vietnam have ended. How can you forget, when your memories remain as vivid as ever?

The emotional content of this novel comes through sharply and with much effect, even as it is being relayed in such a quiet, lyrical way. All the Broken Pieces feels almost like a ballad, weaving its way into the hurt and following the characters as they come to find some measure of solace in where they stand now. The scenes in which Matt sees his new brother Tommy and thinks of his brother in Vietnam are some of the strongest ties in the entire story, and the gentle lullabies that Matt's mother sings to him when he gets mentally caught back in the Vietnamese jungles make for truly beautiful writing that soberingly contrasts with the violence of the war. This is a remarkable book, and I would give it three and a half stars.

"We have found you and we love you.
You will never be alone.

I will sing to you of morning,
I will stay until it's light.
I will sing to you of laughter
on the other side of night."

All the Broken Pieces, P. 138
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Quotes Josiah Liked

“There is darkness on the water.
There is darkness on the land.
There is darkness all around us,
but I will hold your hand.

You are safe, my precious child.
You are safe now, you are home.
We have found you and we love you.
You will never be alone.”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces

“We have found you and we love you.
You will never be alone.

I will sing to you of morning,
I will stay until it's light.
I will sing to you of laughter
on the other side of night.”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces

“Maybe love is like
a monsoon rain.
When it rains
really hard and heavy,
it seems like
it will never end
and we'll swim in mud
forever.

But then the wind shifts
and the earth grows
dry and cracked.
Every gurgle and ooze
tiptoes away
and we're left wishing
and waiting
for rain again.

Maybe love is like that.
Maybe the wind shifts
and love just tiptoes away.”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces

“Pretendin'. I'm still pretendin'.
For the rest of my life, I'll be pretendin'.
How ya doing? they ask,
and I say,
Okay, man,
even though I'm not.
I'm not okay
and I'm never gonna be okay again.
I just don't get it, how they don't see my
insides hangin' out, when it's all I can do
to put these feelings into words
because words don't mean
a thing.

—Joe”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces

“Some cancers are sneaky.
They're silent and invisible.
They creep up on you
and invade so deep on the inside
that no one on the outside
even knows the cancer's there
until it's too late.”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces

“Words are messy,
but sometimes,
words are all you've got
to show what matters most.”
Ann E. Burg, All the Broken Pieces


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