Before We Were Free
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the author won the Pura Belpre award for this historical fiction book about a young girl from the Dominican Republic whose family is involved in overthrowing the terrifying dictator known as El Jefe in the 1960s. There are some violent details, including some pretty graphic depictions of torture, but there is also a strong message about the importance of fighting for your right to be free. As Anita's mother tells her, "Sometimes life without freedom is no life at all." Through Anita's story, readers will also struggle with the same issues Anita and her family do: Is murdering anyone ever justified, even when it's a dictator? Should they stay and fight for their freedom, or flee to safety? The book includes an author's note and an interview with the author, both of which provide some historical context, as well as a reader's guide.
What's the story?
Anita has a good life living in an extended family compound in the Dominican Republic. But as she approaches adolescence and her relatives start leaving for the United States, or just disappearing, she gradually comes to understand that her family is involved in the resistance to the island's brutal dictator, Trujillo. Soon they are being watched by the secret police and the American ambassador moves into the compound with them to protect them. But when her family takes part in an assassination plot, Anita and her mother are forced into hiding.
Is it any good?
Told strictly from Anita's point of view, parts of it in the form of diary entries, this moving book manages to give readers a true sense of what life is like under a dictatorship. Readers will empathize with her as she gradually understands what is going on around her, and watch her idyllic childhood become increasingly dangerous. Not only must she manage the usual markers of adulthood -- periods, crushes, etc.-- but her own complicated coming-of-age story also means coming to terms with her own family's involvement in the assassination of the man she has always called El Jefe. The story is well told, but its messages about freedom are what will leave a more lasting impression on teen readers. They will struggle with some of the questions Anita struggles with, including what would they do in her family's situation? Is better to flee to safety, or fight for your rights?
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about historical fiction. What's appealing about learning history this way? What does it add to your understanding of real events? What other example can you think of?
This book won a Pure Belpre award, which, according to the American Library Association, is given "to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." Why do you think an award like this is necessary? Have you read any of the other award winners?