Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Red Umbrella, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

The Red Umbrella
Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Random House
Copy borrowed from our library

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.
Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

As we may have mentioned once or six times before, we love historical fiction. We are always excited about books that cover 'holes' like this one. Not only are we unaware of any other books set around "Operation Pedro Pan", we were completely unaware of this mass exodus of children from Cuba in the early 1960's.

We can only imagine the turmoil these parents went through. It is very easy to look at a situation from the outside, with historical hindsight, and say "Yes, they should be willing to send their children away." Quite another thing to be in a horrible situation that you hope will get better, and have to make a decision you will never stop second-guessing. Some parents, in fact, were never able to reunite with their children.

The Red Umbrella begins when the soldiers first arrive in Lucia's town. Her parents are worried, but she is more focused on nail polish and boys, and their sudden restrictions on her movements chafe. The propaganda taught at school does its job at first, and she does not understand her parents' lack of enthusiasm for the revolution...until some real-life occurrences open her eyes, and force her to grow up a bit faster.

The pace of the book changes 2/3 of the way through, when Lucia and her pesty (and very realistic) younger brother are sent to the United States, first to a shelter, and then to a farm home in Nebraska. Quite the culture shock! At first the kindly Mrs. Baxter seems to be one of those clueless, well-meaning people who only manage to make things worse, and the reticent Mr. Baxter does not even seem to want them there. We as readers get to know them slowly, as Lucia and her brother do, and both Baxters prove themselves quite capable of guiding the children through a very difficult time. Loved the scene with the mud!

While we would have liked to see some of the characters (Mr. Baxter, Frankie) fleshed out a bit more, Lucia's is strong and well-written. The changes she goes through in the course of the book are sometimes due to her circumstances, but often just a result of growing up, and all are realistic. All in all an impressive first novel, and we look forward to seeing more from Diaz. We give it a

4 out of 5.

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