Jumping Off to Freedom

Book review by
Cindy Kane, Common Sense Media
Jumping Off to Freedom Book Poster Image
Harrowing journey of family fleeing Cuba on a raft.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

The hero makes a sexist remark; his girlfriend is defined entirely by her attractiveness to him.


A few mild epithets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the writing and characterization aren't the strong points here; it's all about the adventure.

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What's the story?

When 15-year-old David Leal is mistakenly arrested and interrogated because a friend used his bicycle to commit a crime, David's father, Miguel, decides the time has come to leave Cuba. In exchange for supplies for their homemade raft, Miguel agrees to let a simple-minded dockworker named Luis come on the journey. But when the day comes for them to "jump off," a friend of Luis' called Toro bullies his way onto the raft too. As Miguel falls ill, relations among hotheaded David, ill-tempered Toro, and frightened Luis become dangerously strained. The perils of the journey and their dwindling supplies force them to work together, and a gradual fellowship builds among them as they safely navigate their way to Florida.

Is it any good?

There's a great story in this book if the author's lapses in writing can be overlooked. She tends to flatly state her points with unnecessary asides, the dialogue can be awkward, and a subplot about how Toro was involved in David's friend's crime feels contrived. A wandering point of view doesn't add anything to the understanding of the characters. Bernardo also has a taste for hackneyed phrases.

But once readers wade through these flaws, there's a perspective on the plight of the Cuban boat people that no news stories can provide. The shortages that they face in Cuba are evoked clearly: no food, no power, no jobs, no freedom. The dangerous journey is also carefully described, and the moment when they see the lights of Miami is thrilling. This fills a need for young adult fiction about life in Cuba and about the boat people.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about refugees. Why do the boat people leave? What do you think would happen to them if they stayed? Do you think the journey is worth the risk?

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