Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Red Umbrella review

Book talk:  Lucia is excited for the unscheduled vacation from school while government officials reevaluate the education system.  Sure, there are more soldiers in the streets than usual, but Lucia is determined to enjoy this unexpected break with her friends.  But Lucia's mother places her under house arrest with her little brother.  At first Lucia is sure her mother is overreacting, but soon she witnesses events that change her mind. Before long Lucia sees changes taking place all around her, even in her best friend.  Her parents have a plan to keep her and her brother safe, but it means sending them to America all alone.  As Lucia longs for home she starts to wonder:  will she be able to survive the change from tropical island weather to Nebraskan snow?  Will her best friend come to her senses?  Will she ever see her parents again?

Rocks my socks: It seems that lately my reading choices have been conspiring against me to make me feel like I slept through all my history classes.  I swear I always got A's in history and did well on the AP test!  I guess it just goes to show how little time they have to cover such a wide topic in schools and how important it is to be a life-long learner and study on your own as well.  I had no idea that thousands of unaccompanied minors were sent the US to escape Castro's regime when he first took over.  In addition to learning about the history of this period I also loved the characters, especially Lucia and the arc she follows throughout the story from a girl whose main cares are what dress she will wear to her quinceanera to whether she'll ever see her parents alive again.

Rocks in my socks: The characters in the story are a bit too black and white for my tastes and the lines drawn a bit too crisply.  Every communist character is irredeemable by the end and every capitalist thoughtful and caring with the sole exception the mean girl at her American school.  This is best demonstrated by the two dance scenes in the novel, one in Cuba and one in America.  At the one in Cuba the boy she had a crush on and danced with, who had joined the communist youth group, ended up trying to take advantage of her while the nice American boy in the later dance acted like a perfect gentleman without pushing himself on her--even giving her an excuse to leave the floor when the slow dance came on.  There was no real need for this in the narrative and I think the story would have been much more layered and interesting if the roles were reversed.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to 6th grade and up looking for a 20th century historical fiction.  The book is told from a fairly feminine perspective with the protagonist being a girl and a fair amount of time spent talking about dresses and makeup and crushes.  There is a fair amount of action in there as well, however, with a pretty face pace as the violence escalates and Lucia flees the country.

Extra: Coincidentally I read this book at the same time that my cousin, who works for the AP, moved to Havana to work there as a reporter.  Good luck Peter--I know you'll do a great job!

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

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