Flight to Freedom by Ana Veciana-Suarez 2002
IQ "I don't think Mami or Papi understand what it is like to be new to a school, with funny clothes and a funny accent. They are not trying to be cruel to us. They may even think they are doing what is right. But it's hard to live like Papi wants us to live, suspended in the middle between two countries. We have to be either here or there. We have to make up our minds. We must choose." Yara pg. 75
Flight To Freedom tells the story of thirteen year old Yara Garcia who lives in Cuba during 1967. Yara's parents are growing increasingly unhappy with Fidel Castro's Communist, controlling policies so they decide to immigrate to Miami, Florida. Yara has a younger sister Ana Maria (who is seven or eight I think) and an older sister, Ileana who is sixteen. They are forced to leave behind Yara's brother, Pepito because he has been drafted into the Cuban army. He isn't even allowed to go and visit them before they leave. They haven't seen him in over a year. It's hard for the family to adjust to Cuba, they all want to return to Cuba.
I enjoyed re-reading this book, it's been a long time since I last read it. The story is told by Yara through a diary that she keeps from 1967-1968. One of my favorite aspects of Flight to Freedom is reading about how America changes Yara and her family, especially Yara's mother. The more obvious changes are that the family learns English, watches American TV shows, go to movies, listen to records, dress differently and just want to fit in by being "more American" (the kids anyway). Mental/emotional changes are also occurring. Yara's mother starts to become more independent. She gets a job, tries to learn English by taking classes and learns how to drive. Her husband disapproves of her new job and her classes so he gives her an ultimatum, choose the classes or the job. She chooses the job, but she's unhappy that she had to stop learning. Her daughters try to help teach her. Yara's father begins training with a militant group that is preparing to invade Cuba. he believes the only way to overthrow Castro is by force. Yara's father is always optimistic that the family will be back home in Cuba soon, however the rest of his family is starting to realize that it may be a while before they go back and it certainly won't happen as soon as their father thinks it will (by the new year, by Yara's fifteenth birthday, etc.) In hindsight, it's very sad to read how hopeful Cuban immigrants were that they would be home soon and here we are in 2010, and many Cubans still haven't returned to their homeland (many of the younger generations have never seen it at all). The adventures of Yara's father helped to make an engrossing read, I was constantly wondering if he would be arrested.
I do wish that the author had done a better job of explaining about how Pepito came to be drafted into the army, or maybe even started the novel off with that part. Yara spends a lot of time missing her brother, but the reader never feels any attachment to him because we never meet him. We hear a few stories about him, how he wanted to be a pilot, etc. and the family receives letters from him (although it's never really clear if it's him writing while being censored or the government writing for him) occasionally, but we never get to know Pepito (I'm not even sure how old he is, I think seventeen) and I think the storyline should have been dropped altogether since nothing significant comes out of it. The author could have used this part of the plot to educate readers about the Cuban army and how you could get drafted, but she didn't and so I thought he should have been left out. Also, Ana Maria seems to be an afterthought, like "I need a cute, whiny little kid in here." Some pages we hear a little bit about her, but then weeks can go by without us hearing anything about her. I was curious to see how she was handling being in America since she was so young, my guess is she assimilated the fastest.
I would like to read a story actual set during the time of Communist Cuba under Castro's reign the entire time (or end with the person/family immigrating) to learn what it was like for someone to have to live in Cuba when they so desperately want to leave, how do you deal? The author does a great job of describing why the family wanted to immigrate (there's a particular instance when a teacher tries to prove to Ana Maria that there is no God by having her ask God and Fidel for candy. Obviously, God doesn't give her candy. The teacher is a 'representative' of Fidel so she gives her candy. Thus, "there is no God. There is only Fidel." (pg.3). The author describes the rations and how religion was treated (nuns and priests were banned); all the awful things about how Castro ruined Cuba. Yara doesn't remember life without Castro ruling, but her parents reminisce. We also see the beauty of Cuba as described by Yara. I would love to visit, once the Castros are out of power. Flight to Freedom tells an interesting story and it's really good for middle school students to read who don't much about or understand what Communism is/how it affects people, specifically why Castro was/is bad. It also vividly documents the pain of being an immigrant, the prejudice and the kindness (as in the IQ it describes the mixed up emotions immigrants/refugees have. Which country is home, the land of their birth or the land they have grown to know and love?) 6th grade and up.
You can win this book! Enter my giveaway to win Flight to Freedom, The House on Mango Street and the Ring! Ends Jan. 18 (MLK Day)
Throwback Thursday is a meme from Taste Life Twice. You review books from your childhood, or in my case, books published before 2007 (a random year really).
Disclosure: Received from Wendy from Six Boxes of Books, my Secret Santa. Thanks Wendy! I'm so glad you were my Secret Santa because I discovered your blog and I love it :)
My heart goes out to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. They are in my prayers along with Haitian Americans, please go here to learn how you can help (I texted HAITI to 90999 which gives $10 to the Red Cross. It was the least I can do and I intend on setting some money aside to help out more. Even if you can't give money, check to see if clothes/toiletries, etc. are needed. But CHECK first because they may not be very helpful.) Thank you in advance for all your help, you guys rock <3