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The Broke Hearts


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About The Book

In this “moving and heartbreaking” (BCCB) follow up to Barely Missing Everything, JD and Danny, still reeling from the gutting death of their best friend by police gunfire, grapple with life-changing decisions and the kind of people they want to be, for Juan.

A year after losing their best friend, JD and Danny are still brokenhearted. JD’s impetuous decision to join the Air Force only makes him yearn for “before” more than ever. Danny, who’d rather paint murals than open a book and certainly never thought of himself as college material, makes the equally impulsive choice to do what Juan will never be able to and enrolls in a community college.

Danny’s father, The Sarge, is proud of him for the first time ever for living out Sarge’s own dream of being a first-generation college student, but Danny can’t shake the thought that it should be Juan, not him. And studying hasn’t gotten any easier for him despite his new academic goals. When Danny is on the verge of flunking out and JD gets notified of imminent deployment, the two are forced to confront their shared grief that led them to these paths. Can they learn to live lives that are their own in honor of Juan, rather than for him?


Chapter One: Danny the Fish CHAPTER ONE DANNY THE FISH
No way was Danny Villanueva going to learn a thing. At least not sitting in art class. Danny fidgeted in his seat as his fellow Intro to Basic Drawing students scribbled in their notebooks. Danny’s most recent piece—The Hallway—had been placed front and center of the room, propped on a big wooden easel for everyone to take in. He’d quickly sketched it the night before it was due and ripped it from his spiral art book before turning it in, the little perforated ends still dangling from its side. Danny couldn’t bear to look at the piece now, the hallway looking like it had been drawn by someone who’d never actually stood inside one before. There was no door at the end of the long, narrow passageway. In fact, there were no doors at all. On one wall there was a pair of tiny windows drawn side by side, and the other was bare. Danny wondered what kind of building this hallway could exist in—if it had reason to exist at all, other than to fail an art class. Danny looked out the classroom window. His car was only a few hundred yards away, illegally parked by a fire hydrant in front of the Student Union. Fleeing from class was a better choice than staying. He could avoid a ticket and humiliation. Why stick around for that, other than the class participation points. Obviously.

Pablo, his art professor, had made that a major part of everyone’s grade. He had broken the class down into two parts. Technique and critique. The first half was technique, drawing exercises like sketching circles and cubes, pairs of hands and flowers. Pairs of hands holding flowers. These in-class assignments were almost always pencil-drawn, meant to develop shading techniques and crosshatching, detail work and tonal sketching—boring, easy stuff—followed by a take-home piece. And after that was critique, where the class discussed Pablo’s take-home assignment, which would end up as part of their end-of-semester portfolio. The Hallway was Danny’s third, and last, piece of the semester. It was also his worst. Much worse than the hands and the flowers he’d turned in last week. But just by talking in class—discussing the work, as Pablo like to say—they could make up a third of their grade. All Danny had to do was remain silent as the class beat up his hallway and then chat the remaining assignments. Easy.

Pablo moved toward the front of the room, his arms folded across his chest as he studied Danny’s hallway. Way back on the first day of class, Danny thought his new art professor was going to be cool, him telling everyone, Call me Pablo, like he was not going to be grading them. Like now, he’d been wearing a too tight T-shirt and ripped-up jeans, a pair of scuzzy Chucks. If only the Sarge—Danny’s father—could’ve seen him. He would have wondered what he’d just spent all that tuition money on. Why the guy couldn’t bother to wear a tie or at least a collared shirt.

Now in December and coming toward the end of the semester, that morning seemed like forever ago. As did Danny’s hopes of doing better in college than he’d done in high school. His report cards were routinely more down than up, but he’d always blamed it on being an army brat and bouncing around high schools, even after settling in El Paso permanently. He had promised the Sarge—and himself—that everything would come together when he started college. That he wouldn’t waste all the money the Sarge had forked out for his future.

Thing was, Danny had been sure that everything would come together, was confident during student orientation at UTEP. He’d never found actual classroom work hard. Maybe not always interesting—sometimes boring as hell—but he never felt totally out of place, like if a dog had been enrolled in a cooking class and was expected to bake a cake. But he was screwing up pretty bad in biology and needed extra credit there, too. The class had hundreds of students and no way did Dr. A even know his name, which made requesting extra credit feel like asking a stranger to borrow underwear. And he was just hanging on in Econ and English.

“Last week we talked about having a focal point in our work,” Pablo was saying, surveying the room. “That our pieces should draw the eye, an observer’s attention.”

“This is like a hallway to nowhere,” Jason said, chinning toward Danny’s drawing. Jason was the guy in class who never raised his hand to talk but who talked all the time.

“Yeah,” Erika chimed in, her hand waving in the air. “But, like, in a bad way.” She pulled her hand down and continued. “I can see that he was going for, like, a minimalist thing, but it just doesn’t work.”

Pablo nodded as she spoke, considering what she’d said. “Let’s try to avoid words like good and bad and talk about what is on the page itself.” He now addressed the rest of the room. There was a silence. Truth? Danny had forgotten all about the hallway assignment almost immediately after it had been handed out. Lately he’d been having a hard time keeping track of a lot of things. He had two half-written essays open on his laptop, both due soon but he wasn’t sure when. Finals were coming, but he had the exact days and times confused. He’d also completely forgotten about JD’s—his best friend—birthday.

“The black-and-white tile floor is working,” came a voice from the back of the class. “The shading on those is well done.” Natalia hardly ever said anything in class, but her work was pretty dope. So maybe she didn’t need the points.

“I thought they were cliché,” Jason argued, turning to face Natalia. “And Pablo is right. There is nothing in the piece that draws my attention. My eyes don’t know where to go.”

How hard was he supposed to bite his tongue? Danny wondered. And would his death be considered a suicide or an accident if he bit it off and choked to death? And that’s when he lost it. “You know what’s cliché?” Danny snapped. “How thirsty you’re being for this fucking art teacher’s approval. Like anyone even cares. He don’t.”

“Danny Villanueva!” Pablo barked. “What the hell?”

Danny could feel the room suddenly staring at him. He looked directly at his hallway. It hadn’t taken more than fifteen minutes to draw, all the lines slightly crooked and rushed. He could see where he’d been sloppy, where his hand had smeared some of the tiles along the bottom of the page. There was no use of any real skill. Of detail. Of give-a-shit.

“You know I’m right!” Danny said anyway. “He’s faking like some pretentious art critic. He’s doing that just for you, homes.” There was a collective gasp in the room, followed by another, more stifling silence. It was as if all the air in the room had been sucked away.

“No,” Pablo corrected. “Jason was participating in class, and you are violating the student code of conduct.”

“Whatever.” Danny slumped down in his seat. “The assignment was to draw a hallway, not a masterpiece.”

“Not another word.” Pablo jabbed a finger in Danny’s direction. “You are going to leave the class right now. You are going to walk to my office, and you are going to sit and wait until I get there. Do you understand?”

Danny looked at Pablo, the expression on his face stern and serious as fuck. So he nodded quickly, quietly packed up his stuff, and bolted from the room, not looking back as he closed the door behind him.

Danny’s art class was inside the same massive building where concert performances were held, where student art was also shown, a modern space called the Glass Gallery, with gleaming white paneled walls and a glossy tile floor. Danny often stopped by to check out paintings, the pieces expertly hung as if they were priceless works in a museum and not student projects. He sometimes felt guilty for not really wanting to see the work, instead more interested in knowing why someone thought what was here was good enough for the wall space.

The complex also housed the depressingly named Beehive, where Danny was now heading. The Beehive was a collection of cubicles where the college kept its worker bees—the part-time adjuncts. At the entrance was a table with pamphlets spread across it, tri-folds with weird titles like Get It Up! How to Improve Your GPA, Is This Your First Time? A Freshman Guide to Campus Life, and Friends with Benefits: Study Groups and You.

Danny—feeling shaky after what had happened in class—grabbed one as he turned the corner into a phalanx of cubicle dividers spreading across a large room. The Beehive could easily be confused for a call center or giant test lab where scientists studied the effects of sadness and boredom on people who once had dreams. Danny looked at his pamphlet:

  1. Schedule time to study. Did you know actually studying is the number one way to get better at studying?
  2. Find a study partner. Make a friend, you loser. If you can’t make a friend here, can you even?
  3. Avoid distractions. Are you still dreaming about painting on walls? That’s a crime, not art.
  4. Have you tried trying?
  5. Always remember how hard everyone has worked for you. Remember that criticism is a gift. Remember all the gifts you’ve been given.

There was another teacher in Pod B2, hunched over her phone, tapping away. She was younger than Pablo, had punky blue-black hair and stylish big-framed glasses. Seeing her made Danny wonder how long Pablo had been teaching. How much cubby time he’d logged. There were two other desks with empty chairs neatly placed at them in the pod, the teachers somewhere else, but their little tchotchkes, coffee mugs with pens jammed in them, picture frames with smiling strangers inside, little daily calendars remained.

There was nothing on Pablo’s desk.

Danny grabbed an empty chair and nervously poked at his phone. He wondered what Pablo was going to tell him when he arrived. He’d looked pissed standing beside Danny’s homework, and that was before Danny’d said a peep to Jason. There was a good chance, Danny decided, that he was about to get tossed from the class. He vaguely remembered hearing something about the student code of conduct during orientation, a student volunteer saying it was online. He briefly thought about looking it up but decided nah. Pablo would just tell him. He seemed like the Sarge in that way. Probably loved giving bad news.

“Bro, why are you like that?” Pablo said, fixing a stare at Danny as he rushed inside the pod. He tossed his old-timey-looking satchel onto the empty desk and sank into the chair beside Danny. It was the kind of bag only a hipster artist—or a mailman from the Wild West days—would carry. Pablo shook his head in disbelief as he continued to stare, as if he hadn’t stopped thinking about the incident since it happened.

“Why am I like what?” Danny asked, knowing exactly what Pablo meant. People like Jason and Erika put him on edge. His entire senior year at Cathedral, a private Catholic school Danny went to after getting expelled from his old high school, was full of Jasons. The Sarge telling him the experience was finally going to prepare him for college—so much for that!

“An asshole,” Pablo answered. The other teacher in the cubicle stopped tapping on her phone and turned to look at Pablo, her big brown eyes narrowing on him like lasers. Pablo smiled apologetically at her until she turned her attention back to her phone. He then reached for his satchel and pulled out a sketchbook. The cover was worn, lots of trips in and out of the bag. Pencil lead stains marked the edges. He thumped the side and studied Danny. “Put your phone down.”

Danny had been holding it, an automatic habit. He looked down at the blank phone screen in his lap and then back at Pablo. He wasn’t acting like he was going to toss him from class, at least not yet. So he placed his phone on Pablo’s desk.

“Look,” Pablo continued. “I don’t want to waste my time on a kid who’s got it but doesn’t get it.”

“I’ll redo the hallway,” Danny said quickly. “I’ll do whatever. I need to pass, okay?”

“That’s the problem. You’re already doing whatever.”

Pablo opened the sketchbook and, half turning it to Danny, flipped through it, drawings of ordinary still lifes, of a murder of crows in the twisted branches of a huizache, jagged mountains cutting across the desert sky, a nopal in bloom skipped by. Pablo then stopped on an image of a boy. It was a portrait. The kid, maybe five or six, was facing away, his back at an angle, his shoulders raised like he was walking away but stopped, as if spooked and ready to suddenly spin around. The boy’s face was in profile, about to glance at what was behind him. His expression wasn’t quite scared, more the second right before fear, before realizing he was all by himself.

“Do you know what all these pieces have in common?” Pablo continued as Danny’s phone buzzed, the black screen lighting up.

“No.” Danny didn’t know what Pablo was getting at, but the motherfucker could draw. He looked over at his phone. MÁ MISSED CALL.

“I care about each drawing,” Pablo said. “It’s that simple. I care about what I’m making.”

“No one cares about hallways,” Danny said, knowing he sounded more defensive than he wanted to.

“No, you didn’t care about hallways. First, a hallway can be anything. Endless possibilities. You could’ve made the assignment anything you wanted it to be, and you simply failed. Second, you don’t care about other people’s feelings or opinions. You failed at being a decent person to your fellow classmates. Do you even get that?”

“Yes.” And he did, sort of. He felt embarrassed and desperately wanted to apologize, especially to Natalia, who was trying to be nice even though his work was trash. Erika and Jason still sucked, though.

“You don’t seem to care about this art class, and that is why you’re failing.” Pablo closed his sketchbook and again tapped the cover with his finger. “You have the technical skills. I’ve seen them when we do our exercises in class. I know tons of artists like you, with all the ability in the world but not a drop of courage to make yourself, or someone else, care.”

Danny shifted uncomfortably. He was surprised to know that Pablo thought he had any talent at all. That he considered him an artist.

“Then let me do what I care about,” he said, the words escaping his mouth before he could think about them. Things Danny cared about had a way of vanishing on him. It made caring a gamble.

His phone started ringing again, his má calling for the second time, which was super unusual. But again he didn’t reach to answer it. Instead, he and Pablo looked at the glowing image on the screen. The drawing was one Danny had painted on his tablet, something he maybe wanted to make a mural of someday. The image was of a skeleton dressed as a cop, its uniform a crisp and deep blue, the bony face hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses. The painting was a re-created Lotería card, La Muerte, standing out against a faded pink background. Death’s badge painted silver and shiny, exactly like its scythe.

“Now, that is pretty good,” Pablo said, leaning forward. “Tell me about that.”

“I painted it on my tablet.” Danny hesitated, then added in a rush, “I did it a little bit after a cop shot and killed my friend.”

“That happen in Central, right?” Pablo asked, his face wrinkling, like a memory was coming to him. “Maybe a year ago?”

“Yeah.” Danny didn’t say more, didn’t want to.

Juan’s killing was all over the local news and online right after it happened. All the articles told the basic story. JD and Juan were trespassing at this old apartment complex in Central and that Juan had had a gun, the police killing him behind the building. None of the stories mentioned how Juan was on his way to see his father for the first time. That JD was helping him drive across the state in a borrowed truck, Fabi’s—Juan’s mom. The gun had been hers, hidden under the seat. They didn’t want to get busted driving with a gun, so they’d gone to ditch it behind the apartment complex. The boys having no idea what would happen next.

“Do you play Lotería?” Pablo caught on, shifted the conversation. “Me and my family used to play all the time. The games used to get pretty heated. It’s a good time.”

“I’ve never played,” Danny said simply. “My friend’s mom gave the stack of cards to me. I just liked the art.”

The Sarge, Má, and Danny had gone to see Fabi a few days after Juan’s funeral, Má making a pot of birria along with corn tortillas for her. Má and the Sarge disappeared into the house almost as soon as they arrived, carrying the pot and all the extra stuff: salsa and diced onions, cut limes. Danny stayed on the porch and watched as Juan’s grandpa took inventory of the front yard, making a list of the car and washing machine parts. The milk crates with jars half-filled with random nuts and bolts.

Fabi joined Danny on the porch, carrying a cardboard box labeled DONATIONS. She put it down on the little table—two metal folding chairs pushed neatly underneath—beside the front door. Danny watched as Juan’s grandpa continued making notes on a scrap of paper. “I have a guy coming tomorrow to haul all that crap away,” Fabi told him. “We’re moving far the hell away and not taking a single screw.”

Danny had looked inside the box and saw the Lotería cards. La Muerte was on top. Number fourteen. He had seen this image of Death before. The reaper on shirts or hats being sold at the swap meet, though he wasn’t sure where this particular one came from. He looked back at Fabi, who was now smiling at him, and the look on her face made him want to cry. She was thinking of Juan, just like he was. Hearing Fabi’s voice. Smelling Juan’s house. Watching Juan’s grandpa count all the familiar junk that was going to disappear the next day was punching a hole right through Danny’s heart.

“Do you want them?” Fabi asked.

“What are they?”

“It’s a game. Kind of like bingo.” Fabi rummaged through the box, pulled out a tabla and a set of instructions with a description of all fifty-four cards. The tablet had sixteen images, four up and down, four across. “Someone shuffles the deck and then flips the cards over and calls them out. The person can say the little phrases or whatever. You get four in a row, you win. Not too complicated.”

“You ever play with Juan?” Danny asked.

“Nah. A bartender friend at the bar I worked at used these like tarots.” She grabbed the stack and motioned for Danny to take a seat as she joined him. Fabi began shuffling. “I never used them, but I liked watching her work.” Watching her shuffle the small deck with ease, Danny didn’t believe for a second that she wasn’t the bartender psychic. Fabi set four cards facedown in front of Danny and looked at him with a mysteriously grave expression. “My friend would tell whoever she was reading that the cards could not predict the future. Only the past.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Danny said, trying not to laugh.

Fabi shifted in her seat, her posture straightening. She reached across the table and squeezed Danny’s hand. “It means the past is all anyone really cares about. Fixing it. No one gives a shit about tomorrow.”

Danny could feel a lump in his throat growing as Fabi smiled at him again. She seemed hollow, as empty as her home was now becoming, box by box. She sat back and contemplated the four cards. She slowly reached for the first and flipped it over. Number fifty, El Pescado. Danny gawked at the image, a fish being yanked from the water, a giant hook in its mouth.

“El que por la boca muere,” she continued, her voice softer but not comforting.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” Fabi stifled a laugh as she scooped up the cards without flipping the rest over. “She’s a fucking bartender. Her job was to get people drunk, listen to their sins, and hopefully get tipped like crazy.” Fabi stacked the cards, the tabla, and instructions neatly beside her box of donations. “Don’t pay any attention to that card,” Fabi continued. “Or to me. Juanito always said you talked crazy, but he liked that about you.”

Danny could see a lot of Juan in her face, in her expressions as she tried to make him feel better. Danny wasn’t so sure talking crazy would ever do him any good, but he also didn’t believe in Lotería card psychics. “Maybe I should get drunk” is what he said instead.

“Well, you’re not doing that here,” Fabi said, standing to leave. “But you can keep the cards.”

Pablo was rubbing his face like a game show contestant thinking over a doozy of a question. “I’ve always liked the art too. How many of these have you done?”

“Just the reaper cop,” Danny said. He’d finished it the same day he’d visited Fabi, actually. After thinking about her card reading and how, like pescado, his mouth had again gotten him into trouble.

“Okay, look. You don’t have a lot of time,” Pablo said, nodding as if coming to some decision. “If you want to pass the class, I want three new Lotería paintings for your portfolio. If you can do that and they’re good—if they look like you actually put heart into them—you’ll make it. You’ll pass the class.”

“But this is a drawing class,” Danny said.

“Like you said, it’s an art class.”

Danny’s phone buzzed again. This time it was a text message. Both Danny and Pablo turned to read it. It was from Má.

I don’t know what you’re doing, but you need to get to Beaumont right now. Your dad collapsed. He’s unconscious. We’re in the ambulance.

“I gotta go,” Danny said, jumping to his feet, jamming his phone and the image of La Muerte back inside his pocket. “It’s my dad.” A sense of alarm grew quickly inside his body, his own internal sirens going off. Sirens of panic. Regret. Dread.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

The Broke Hearts

By Matt Mendez

About the Book

In the aftermath of police murdering their best friend Juan, Danny and JD’s friendship suffers amidst distance and the demands of their separate lives post high school. JD has enlisted in the Air Force, learning how to fix fighter jets and feeling his dream to go to film school slipping away while waiting for deployment. Meanwhile, Danny is failing college and losing his love of art when he gets a call about his father’s declining health. Told in two points of view, including tastes of JD’s screenwriting and vignettes of Danny’s and his father’s childhoods, this work of contemporary fiction examines the impacts we have on one another’s lives and the process of grieving. How do we honor the dead while still living our lives?

Discussion Questions

1. What does Apá mean when he tells Daniel, “‘Being afraid makes you do the easy, and usually wrong, thing.’” (El Soldado) Do you agree with this statement? Think of an example of a time when fear has influenced your decision, and share your thoughts with the class.

2. After Danny has an outburst in class that breaks the student code of conduct, his professor, Pablo, gives Danny a second chance to pass the class. Does Danny deserve this second chance? Why does Pablo offer Danny compassion and help? Explain your answers.

3. Consider the various ways chapters are written in the book, from titles to snippets of JD’s screenplay. How are JD’s and Danny’s chapters different and why? How do the different writing styles help to tell the story?

4. Danny learns his dad’s heart is literally broken and leaking. Discuss how this relates to the title of the book and what else the title might be referencing. Use examples to justify your answer.

5. Their boss Rowe constantly berates JD and Raines, claiming he has his hands full with them even though Raines knows “‘the whole time we’re over there, we’ll be the only ones doing all the actual work, his crew—the Black guy and the Mexican kid?’” (Chapter sixteen) How does Rowe get away with his behavior? Why does it take JD until the end of the book to realize Rowe tells on himself when he puts JD down? These are situations that occur in real life. What actions can we take so that people don’t take advantage of others?

6. After Fabi gives Danny the deck of Lotería cards, she tells him, “‘It means the past is all anyone really cares about. Fixing it. No one gives a shit about tomorrow.’” (Chapter five) Explain what she means. Pick some scenes in the book that prove this statement correct. With a partner, discuss what current events are repeating history. Why does history repeat itself?

7. The army recruiter matter-of-factly says he gets “‘a bunch of recruits like that . . . or ones with a stepdad. Kids really hate stepparents.’” (El Cazo) Why is that the case? Does it help kids who are likely alone to join the army? What kind of support do kids without parents or without adequate care need? Think about how the race and class of the characters in the book affected their decisions to join the army. What do you think about Daniel’s dad’s opinion that a draft should be brought back?

8. Pablo tells Danny, “‘Sending you to school is maybe the only way your dad knows to show you that he loves you.’” (Chapter twelve) In pairs, describe the different ways characters express love in the book. Discuss how you express love and how you want to receive love. Are you influenced by your culture, family, media, society, or something else?

9. Why does JD keep encountering a coyote? What does the coyote symbolize? Research the meaning behind coyotes and use examples from the book to support your answer.

10. After JD and Tomás sneak into the school to play basketball on a nice court, JD has the beginnings of a panic attack. Why does he get so scared and anxious?

11. Sometimes friends drift apart, like when Danny describes how his friendship with JD slowed down from texting almost every day to barely any communication. What caused their friendship to begin dissolving? Use evidence from the text along with any personal experiences you’ve had growing distant from a friend. Can people become close again? Provide specific reasons for your answer.

12. JD and his mom get into an argument after JD returns home. Does his mom blame him for the divorce? Why do they clash so much? Back up your answer with examples from the text.

13. The Sarge didn’t want Danny to join the army or to always be fighting losing battles, yet Danny still feels he must do what the Sarge wants. Do you feel pressure from the adults in your life about your future? Take some time to reflect and write your response. Share with the class if you would like.

14. Throughout the book, various characters make comments about what it means to be Mexican and, more specifically, what it means to be a Mexican man. Cite examples from the text. Where do these beliefs stem from? Are there beliefs about your culture and gender? Do you agree or disagree? Does it make a difference if someone with a shared identity makes generalized statements like this versus someone on the outside? Expand on your answers.

15. One theme in The Broke Hearts is the relationship between fathers and sons and the effects fathers, whether present or not, have on their children. What expectations and pressures are placed on fathers? How does gender, ethnicity, class, and race play a role in how a father is portrayed or what a father is “supposed” to be? Use evidence from the text, your own experiences, media representation, and stories from your community to justify your answers.

16. JD reveals to Danny that he and Juan thought Danny “‘talked too much crap about your old man. Maybe he’s some kind of asshole, but you have one. All the dude wants is for you to not suck.’” (Chapter nine) JD also has a father, so why does he imply that isn’t the case? Did JD have a right to be upset when Danny complained about his dad? What was your reaction to this scene?

17. Roxanne, Danny, JD, and Fabi all lost Juan and ran away from the grief. Name the ways each person ran away both literally and figuratively. How might their lives have been different if they had faced their grief directly? Is there a correct way to grieve? What helped each person begin to heal, if anything?

18. Danny creates remixed versions of Lotería cards to tell a story about his family and community, choosing to represent important people and moments in each card. What does each card represent? What does Danny learn about himself and other characters as he paints the mural?

19. In a flashback, Daniel fixes Adán’s car. What is the significance of this scene, knowing Adán was Daniel’s bully? Why does it matter that Daniel’s father and the army recruiter watched? How does this moment change Daniel and influence his style of parenting?

20. The Broke Hearts ends with a flashback to the Sarge meeting his son, Daniel, after his birth. Why does the book end with a beginning?

Extension Activities

1. Isa writes her number inside a copy of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, which JD buys along with Dominicana by Angie Cruz; The Sentence by Louise Erdrich; Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward; How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu; and The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. Choose one of these books to read, then write a short essay describing what themes the book shares with The Broke Hearts and what the characters of The Broke Hearts could learn from reading the same book.

2. There are many iterations of Lotería cards. Find a version online and use the cards to tell a story about a pivotal moment in your life or a current event in your community. You can choose to paint your own renditions, print and cut out a collage, create a story map using the cards, or write a poem or short story inspired by the cards you chose. Be prepared to present your project with the class.

3. Interview a family member or community elder about their teenage years and their life after leaving their childhood home. Create a checklist like Daniel’s to tell the story they shared with you. Consider this a work of creative nonfiction and fill in any gaps that might be missing.

4. There are arguments that the US Military acts in a predatory manner by recruiting in high schools. Read the article in Teen Vogue titled “The Military Targets Youth for Recruitment, Especially at Poor Schools.” ( How does this article connect with JD’s experience in the book? Discuss the article as a class and locate the thesis, the main arguments, any counterarguments, any recommendations made, and what your overall thoughts are about the issue.

5. JD joins the Air Force not only for a chance at film school, but to get “as far away from where Juan was killed, from his parents’ divorce, as he could.” (Chapter two) Describe how he deals with these issues throughout the book. How do you deal with difficult issues in your own life? Where do you find support? What about your classmates? Is there a way you can offer support? Work with a partner to create a list of local resources and tangible actions to help folks who feel alone.

6. Write an epilogue for the book that takes place five years later. Make sure to include the main characters and use textual evidence that will give context to the epilogue.

7. When JD tells Danny and Roxanne about his deployment, Roxanne is upset and replies, “‘Like, some kind of war has been going on for our entire lives. Like for what this time?’” (Chapter eleven) Although her question is rhetorical, how would you answer her? With a group, research the wars that have taken place in your lifetime, involving the US or not. Are there ways the US is involved in violence that does not involve an actual war? Are there activists who speak out against war? What do they have to say? Have a small group discussion about your findings and what your beliefs are regarding the issue of war. What is the most effective way to share what you have learned with others?

Guide written by Cynthia Medrano, Librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and committee member of Rise: A Feminist Book Project.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph (c) Chris Summitt

Like his characters, Matt Mendez grew up in central El Paso, Texas. He received an MFA from the University of Arizona and is the author of the short story collection Twitching Heart and young adult novels Barely Missing Everything and The Broke Hearts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can visit him at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (October 3, 2023)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534404489
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Mendez’s strong narrative and distinct, picturesque writing are both reflected in the artistic aspirations of his protagonists: JD aspires to make movies when he returns from the air force, and his affinity for screenplays is as potent as Daniel’s artistic interest in traditional Mexican and Southwestern aesthetics influences. [...They] are effectively presented in parallel as Mendez explores masculinity, mourning, and Mexican-American identity with emotional depth that readers will find moving and heartbreaking.

– The Bulletin , October 2023

Much of the novel is masterfully realized; its symbolic system is noteworthy, with images that accrue ever more refined meanings.

– Kirkus Reviews, 9/1/23

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