My Brigadista Year
When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Nora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Nora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Nora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Nora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Nora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.
Some Cubans might not agree with this portrayal of Cuba at this time. Paterson covered all of her bases when it comes to researching the basic story, and Lora isn't at all condescending to her students. This is selectively representative of the climate at the time, and focuses on the positives of Castro's early days, glossing over the bad things that occurred.
I wish the cover incorporated some of the period photographs of brigadistas, so it would be very clear that this was a historical novel. There are some resources online, and I can see this book being a great starting point to an exploration of Cuban history. Even if this were an #ownvoices book, I can see there being a lot of different opinions about this reading program, no matter how positive it is in concept. Young readers need to understand that stories are often complex.