Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. (Read thefascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)
We're honored to have her here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where four of the top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, Lyn reviews The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Knopf, 2010).
"From 1960 to 1962, more than 14,000 Cuban children under the age of 18 immigrated tothe United States without their parents. They were the children of Operation Pedro Pan, sent out of Cuba in the years following Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution of 1959 because their parents didn’t want them to be indoctrinated in Marxist-Leninist schools, drafted into the army or into 'volunteer' brigades, denied the right to practice their religion, or shipped off to the Soviet Union to receive advanced academic, arts, or sports training. (In fall 2008, MultiCultural Review published a series of interviews with 'Pedro Pans' and their family members, including the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Senator from Florida Mel Martinez.) Although most of the unaccompanied minors were later reunited with their parents, some never saw the rest of their families again, and others had to wait years before their parents were allowed to leave Cuba.
"Gonzalez’s debut novel is the first of two this year to depict the experiences of the children of Operation Pedro Pan; 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis, himself a Pedro Pan, will be published in the fall. The Red Umbrella is based on the experiences of Gonzalez’s mother, who came without her parents from Cuba to the United States in 1961. Gonzalez’s mother should be very proud of her daughter for writing this book.
"Each chapter of The Red Umbrella begins with a date and the headline of a news story somewhere in the United States that talks about the situation in Cuba. While some of the headlines are sensationalistic—this was during the Cold War, when the presence of a Communist country 90 miles from the Florida Keys was seen as a dire threat to U.S. national security—they convey the period and the danger that faced these children. Fourteen-year-old Lucía Alvarez is stuck at home, as her private school has been closed for reorganization and the streets are too dangerous with all the soldiers around. When her younger brother develops a fever, she is forced to go to the pharmacy for medicine, and on her way home, she sees the pharmacist—an opponent of Castro’s regime—hanging from a tree in the park.
"Lucía’s best friend, Ivette, supports the new government, but Lucía’s father, a bank manager, does not. When soldiers barge into her home, locate the place where her father has hidden money and jewelry, and arrest him, Lucía suspects her friend. Another suspect is Tío (Uncle) Antonio, Papá’s pro-revolutionary brother. Given the family’s now-dire financial situation and the suspicion and fear that have descended upon them, Lucía’s parents make the difficult decision to send her and her seven-year-old brother, Frankie, alone to the United States.
The second half of the novel takes place in the U.S., where the children spend five days in a refugee camp separated from each other until an older couple in Nebraska, the Baxters, takes them in. There, Lucía and Frankie must adjust to a new language, family, culture, and climate. Mr. Baxter is moody and uncommunicative, having been unable to work due to a farm accident. However, he and Frankie connect, and the two men of the family begin to overcome their losses. Lucía makes friends at school but is torn between her new life and her desire to see her home, her parents, and her old friends. When the letters and calls from Cuba suddenly stop coming, the children wonder if they’ll ever see their parents again.
"Gonzalez provides enough tension to keep middle school readers turning the pages and thinking about what it would be like to have to leave home and family for an uncertain future. Her characters are engaging, warm, and multidimensional, and she seamlessly weaves Lucía’s Cuban culture and cultural differences into the story. A concise, well-written author’s note and a glossary of Spanish words and phrases used in the story add it its usefulness. The Red Umbrella is a powerful debut from a young author worth watching." -Lyn Miller-Lachmann
How amazing does that sound? Thank you, Lyn!
PS-Watch Miami HOST Crissa's video of Christina Diaz Gonzalez talking about the book!