My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
From the award-winning author of "Bridge To Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved", this fictional memoir is set during and shortly after the Cuban revolution, as seen through 13-year old Lora's eyes. While now most of the Western world views Fidel Castro as an evil dictator, at the time he was seen as a liberator by many of the Cuban people and the atmosphere was very hopeful. One of Castro's goals was increased opportunities for education, and his regime created a sweeping literacy program that recruited young educated people, the "Brigadistas", to go and live with illiterate families in the country to teach them to read and write while also working in the fields along side them.
Thirteen-year old Laura sees the recruitment poster at school, and is eager to do her part to help her country. Though her parents are understandably concerned about her safety and initially refuse to give permission, her grandmother persuades Lora's father to let her go, with the promise that Lora will come home if it becomes to hard or dangerous. Lora is very excited to be a part of something bigger than herself, and quickly forms strong friendships with her host family and their neighbors.
However, despite her enthusiasm and dedication, Lora has to adapt to a much harder life that she is used to and faces many dangers and challenges along the way, causing her to doubt herself. Will Lora be able to see her mission through until the end, or will the threat from the members of the Batista regime who have hidden in the mountains prove to much? One young literacy worker has already been murdered; will there be more?
This is wonderful coming of age story that I hope finds its audience. The voice is somewhat unique, while the events being described happened when the protagonist and narrator was 13, she is telling the story as an adult, thus the voice and point-of-view is more mature and sophisticated than that of many popular middle-grade books. Again, while this is historical fiction, I think being written as a memoir helps hook the reader and makes it seem more real, and I loved that it came complete with an epilogue, where the now grown Lora summarizes her life up to the present, which was a wonderful bonus to an already satisfying ending.
The story is well-paced, with characters the reader will grow to love and care about. While the focus is on dedication, giving back, and being a part of something important, it gives a glimpse into the events of the revolution, and the lives of the campesinos, and there is an element of adventure and danger. I would recommend this for ages 10-14, and for readers who like historical fiction, or like inspiring stories about children accomplishing great things and being involved in important causes. Readers who may be interested in mission work, social causes, or teaching in particular would enjoy this book.
While historical fiction typically doesn't find much of a readership among my patrons, I would talk up the revolution and adventure aspect and try to relate it to some of the dystopian novels that are popular to peak their interest, since they often deal with revolution, repressive regimes, and fighting illiteracy and misinformation as well.
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