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. And 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 hometown 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 showdowns 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. The revolution is not a pretty thing: Lucia comes up against rape, torture of prisoners and brutality on the part of the soldiers. It’s done tastefully; the intent is not to shock, but to inform, and it adds tension to 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 in the book then becomes the siblings’ being in America and keeping themselves Cuban. For Lucia, it also involves 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.
Rated: Mild for some allusions to rape and torture.