Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

No new nonfiction books made it to the library for me last week - well, no new YA. I have a big, serious look at whether gender differences actually exist in the brain, but I'm undecided as to whether that will get a review on the blog. I also finally got my hands on A Family of Readers, which I plan on tweeting like Natasha did.

In the meantime, to satisfy any beginning-of-the-week cravings for facts, I'm going with a historical fiction book.

The Red UmbrellaIt's been two years since the Cuban revolution, and while Lucia generally supports the revolution, it's not her top concern. There's school and parties to attend and a cute boy to flirt with before he goes off to do his part for the revolution, educating underprivileged children in rural areas of Cuba.

And then the soldiers come to town. Freedoms are stripped away, and people disappear. Lucia's parents want her to stay as far away from anything to do with the revolution as possible, but that brings suspicions of anti-communism. Even Lucia's best friend seems to be suspicious of Lucia's parents. To protect Lucia and her little brother, her parents decide the safest place for the children would be away from Cuba - in the United States.

Moving from a beautiful island to landlocked Nebraska is only one change Lucia and Frankie have to adapt to. A new language, new clothes, a whole new way of life are waiting for Lucia in America. While at first she was sure this was going to be a short trip - the equivalent of an exotic summer vacation, perhaps - Lucia begins to wonder if she'll ever see her parents, or her beloved Cuba, again.

Operation Pedro Pan was a real movement in the 1960s, and Gonzalez's author's notes explain. Children were sent from Cuba to live in orphanages or foster families in the US in order to protect them from Castro's regime. This need for protection is illustrated by Lucia's best friend Ivette, who joins the revolution whole-heartedly and repeatedly chastises Lucia for not joining her. It's chilling for someone who has only known the freedoms of the US to read Ivette's railing against capitalism.

I absolutely loved the foster family Lucia and Frankie end up with. Maybe I've read about too many evil stepmothers recently, but it was such a relief to read about a US family that makes a real effort to understand another culture and help the kids out in any way that's practical. Truly wonderful family dynamics there.

This week marks the end of Hispanic Heritage month, and while it's more coincidence than anything that I'm reviewing this title now, it's great timing because this is about a little known bit of Cuban heritage in the US.
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