Paterson offers a coming-of-age tale about a girl stepping up to be part of something greater than herself in post-revolution Cuba.
It’s 1961 in Havana, and 13-year-old Lora, inspired by the revolutionary sense of freedom in the air and her dreams of pushing past the expectations of gender and circumstance placed on her, has decided she wants to be part of Premier Fidel Castro’s campaign to make Cuba a literate nation in one year. Soon she finds herself in the countryside with the Conrado Benitez Brigade, teaching and working alongside her campesino host family. But the specter of war and unrest is everywhere, as is the tension between resisting and embracing the coming social change. Readers should not expect an action-packed tale, but the writing is straightforward and moves at a swift pace. Folding in snippets of unitalicized Spanish, Paterson offers a glimpse of the daily life of a brigadista, redressing the cursory associations many have about Castro’s Cuba. Hers is a positive study of an amazing moment in history that nonetheless acknowledges the darker political machinations at play. An unnecessary epilogue threatens to undo the nuance of the novel, but the themes of literacy, freedom, and community stay strong.
Educational and inspiring. (author’s note, timeline) (Historical fiction. 10-14)