The Red Umbrella

by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
ages: 11+
First sentence: “I watched as a white heron circled the beach and then headed north toward the open waters of the tropics.”
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Lucia’s life isn’t all that bad. Sure, her mother is a bit overprotective, not letting her wear makeup or cut her hair short like the fashionable girls. Ans sure, her little brother Frankie is annoying. But, she has her best friend to giggle over boys with, her father has a good job, and Castro’s revolution hasn’t reached her home town of Puerto Mejares, Cuba.

Then one day, it does, and Lucia’s world turns upside down. Her father is resistant to participating in the revolution, and Lucia inadvertently sees things she shouldn’t have. After a couple of show-downs with the soldiers, Lucia’s parents do the unthinkable: they choose to send Lucia and Frankie to the U.S. for asylum, by themselves. They can only hope that their parents will be able to join them later.

The first half of the book deals with the situation in Cuba, and it’s a dire one. It reminded me of the books I’ve read about the Iranian revolution: controlling, threatening, and very scary, especially for an American, because we’ve never experienced anything like it. There’s a couple of instances, near brushes with rape and death, that made me wonder if this really is a middle grade book. But it’s all very tasteful — barely brushing the surface — and it adds to the tension in the book.

The second half is about Lucia and Frankie in America — specifically Grand Island, Nebraska. They struggle to fit in at first, but the couple they are placed with, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, are kind and well-meaning, and eventually they find a place. The struggle then becomes with being in American and keeping themselves Cuba. And for Lucia, desperately missing home and her parents. It’s tough, but they do find a way to balance everything.

It’s an interesting novel, and addresses something I’d not heard of before in the exile of Cuban children during the revolution. Well-written and well-developed, it’s an excellent book.

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