Title: MY BRIGADISTA YEAR
Author: Katherine Paterson
ARC?: Yes, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Format: Paperback ARC
MG/YA/Adult: Middle grade- historical
TW/CW: Death (mentioned, non-graphic, non-detailed)
When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.
When Candlewick asked if I wanted to review this book, I jumped at the opportunity. Katherine Paterson was one of my favorite authors growing up, even though her books (like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and JACOB HAVE I LOVED) pretty much ripped my heart out.
Her newest book follows thirteen year old, Lora, a young girl living in Cuba. The story takes place right as Castro is coming into power. Lora signs up to travel to the country to teach people how to read and write.
Paterson, as usual, did a great job in creating a cast of characters that younger readers will actually care about. The story is engaging and moves along fast enough that I think even readers as young as 7/8 would be entertained.
It lost a star for me because while Paterson does a good job describing the way of life and the big things happening in Lora’s life, without the context of what the political climate was like in Cuba during that time, it falls slightly flat. I read this with my 3 oldest godchildren and they were pretty confused about why there was such upheaval. A chapter or even a foreword about the changing regime in Cuba would have been a nice, needed touch.
Since I personally don’t know much about the rise of Castro, I can’t comment on the accuracy of this story. Lora does mention her friend’s family fleeing after Castro takes control of the government, but he is looked at in a positive light throughout this novel. I’m not sure what the feeling in Cuba was during this time and welcome any reviews from Cuban readers!