Unbroken…a YA look at history


Hillenbrand, Laura.  Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive.  New York: Random House, 2014.  978-0-385-74251-1.  320p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Unbroken was originally published in 2010 and tells the riveting story of Louis Zamperini.  This edition has a slightly different title and has been adapted for young adults.  Louis Zamperini was born in 1917 and grew up in California.  As a boy, he was a juvenile delinquent headed toward a life of crime.  His Italian immigrant family worried about the choices he was making and his older brother, Pete, finally got Louis into track.  Suddenly, the speed Louis exhibited while escaping angry neighbors and the police was channeled into running races.  Louis was very, very fast and quickly became famous.  He qualified for the 1936 Olympics and hoped to medal in the 1940 Olympics.  However, World War II ensued and Louis joined the Army Air Corps.  During a rescue mission, Zamperini’s B-24 was shot down.  He spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean with two fellow airmen. On the 48th day, Louis and his buddy Phil were found, but the soldiers that rescued them were Japanese; the two men became POWs.

Louis was moved to different prison camps, each more brutal than the last.  At the Omori POW camp, he met Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a sadistic corporal who spent the rest of the war trying to break Louis’ body and spirit.  The cruelty described in this book is almost beyond belief and Louis’ determination to survive is amazing.  Eventually, the atomic bomb ended the war in Japan and he made his way back home to his family.  After he came home, Louis faced a new battle- this one against alcoholism.  Once again, Louis’ family, now including a wife and children, fought to keep him from going over the edge.  In the end, his life was saved by a Billy Graham service that encouraged him to turn his life over to God.

This edition of Unbroken makes Louis Zamperini’s story, one that deserves to be told, accessible to a younger group of students.  It seems more action-oriented than the original.  Some of the more graphic details about life in the POW camps have been edited out.  Finally, this book is substantially shorter than the adult edition.  High school librarians should consider acquiring both editions of the book.  Each has its own strengths and each deserves to be a part of your collection.

92 Biography  Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

One thought on “Unbroken…a YA look at history

  1. The incredible and immensely popular story of Louie Zamperini – Olympic runner, lost at sea survivor, and tortured World War II prisoner of war – has been adapted for young readers. Born in 1917, Louis was a troubled youth who spent his time stealing and fighting while looking up to his older, well-behaved brother, Pete. Determined to bring out the good in of Louis, Pete convinced him to start running track, and he soon became a star, competing in the 1936 Olympic Games at Berlin. Before Louis could run in the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo, the games were cancelled, and he was drafted into World War II. Readers meet Louis’s squadron members and get an intimate look at the humanity behind the grueling face of war. During an air mission, Louis and his crew are shot down over the Pacific Ocean, and he and 3 of his peers are adrift in the ocean for 27 days, fighting off sharks, heat, and mania. The survivors are then taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. Incredibly, through torture and humiliation, Louis remained determined to survive. After returning to the US and battling post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, Louis struggles mentally and physically, but finally finds peace among so many demons. The young readers edition has been appended, but still reads as a page-turner that will appeal to reluctant readers., but includes over 100 photos and an interview between the author and Zamperini. A wonderful and essential addition to any school library collection, with bonus photos and an interview between the author and Louis Zamperini.

    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

    I had an 8th grade student attempt the original, denser version of this story, and he said it was just too much to get through. Imagine his delight when I placed this in his hands! He echoed my sentiments that this story is truly amazing, and one that needs to be read. I am hoping word of mouth gets this one circulating more, but plan to book talk it at our next assembly as well, to hopefully speed up the process!

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