Parents' Guide to

My Brigadista Year

By Jan Carr, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Compelling tale of teen literacy volunteer in 1961 Cuba.

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This novel set in Cuba two years after the Revolution is both a page-turner and history lesson, skillfully written by a master of children's literature. The depth of research in My Brigadista Year is clear, but the book never reads like a weighty lecture. Award-winning author Katherine Paterson deftly opens a window onto this period and culture, involving us with Lora, who's bookish and shy with doubts and fears, but also determined and brave. And Paterson keeps the stakes high. When a gang of anti-revolutionary fighters threatens to kill the brigadistas, Lora's given the opportunity to return home, but weighs her options and chooses to stay, proving to be a strong female role model.

The values of the story are humanitarian. Lora's family struggled under Batista and is sympathetic to the socialist goals of the Cuban Revolution, and her uncle fought and died in an earlier uprising. In an epilogue, Lora acknowledges that Cuba is "not perfect, but we do have an educated, literate population. We do have doctors." She also says she hopes that "someone reading my story will better understand both me and the country I love." At a time when U.S.-Cuba relations are again in play, this book builds a bridge, inviting readers to view this impressive accomplishment of the Cuban Revolution -- helping a huge swath of citizens who were signing their names by thumbprint learn to read and write -- through the eyes of a brave, selfless, and very relatable young participant.

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