Tweens and Teens who watch the news see revolutions all around the globe, in the Middle East and Africa, especially. Those countries seem far away. However, their grandparents will remember a revolution in the 1960's that happened only 90 miles away.
90 MILES TO HAVANA by Enrique Flores-Galbis, Roaring Book Press, 2010
This is about the Pedro Pan operation in 1961 during the Cuban Revolution. 14,000 children were sent from Cuba in a mass exodus. Parents were prevented from leaving, so the children sailed to new homes alone. Told in first person, present tense by Julian, youngest son of a well to do family, the story pulls the reader in with Julian’s mother’s command, “Don’t look away boys...I don’t want you to ever forget what a revolution looks like.”
Julian loves family and wants to please, save, help, take care of each member. His loyalty is steadfast. He makes friends from whom he can learn. His observations and developing skills build to his maturity and usefulness. An artist at heart, Julian expresses himself differently, with insights that surprise. This is a coming of age story, but it has so many layers of meaning and richness within that story.
Any revolution can be better understood by how it looks on a personal level. Bullies in power beget bullies at each level below them. Julian sees bullies in his Cuban neighborhood, at his school, and in America in the camp where he and his brothers are first to learn about America. The bully at the American camp, who was a classmate of his brothers in Cuba, becomes an even meaner bully in the United States, demonstrating how a bully’s inner fears drive his need to intimidate others.
Each character is well fleshed out. There are several casts of characters, from home, to camp, to small communities outside the camp, to Miami, to the school and new home in Connecticut. Trust issues arise. Misery results when misunderstandings occur.
I tried to figure out how old Julian is. He can work math problems that sound as if he could be in the 4th or 5th grade making him, maybe 10 or 11. However, when you are the youngest of 3 boys, it may not matter what your age is, you are still the youngest of 3 boys.
One of Julian’s brothers (Gordo) comes close to being a bully. The middle brother (Alquilino) has more sense and a greater interest in keeping peace, thinking first, acting afterward, weighing the potential. In a reverie near the end of the book, Julian says, “maybe my brothers were making too much noise for me to hear my own thoughts.” To me, that voice seems 9-11, that revelation closer to 11. At this point it’s clear that Julian understands how to make choices for the right reasons.
The author is an artist and lecturer and lives in Forest Hills, New York with his family. He was 9 when his life was changed by Operation Pedro Pan. He and his two older brothers spent months in a refugee camp in southern Florida and this novel is directly inspired by that experience.
Flores-Galbis dedicated this book “To my parents who were brave enough to let go, and my older brothers Anibal and Fernando: tormentors, teachers, and titans whom I will always look up to and love.”
Earlier this year, I blogged about Pedro Pan from a girl’s point of view Under the Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Entry here. 90 Miles to Havana is told from a boy’s perspective. Both books will be of absorbing interest to boy or girl readers.