Book Review – The Red Umbrella

Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Publisher: Knopf Book for Young Readers (May 11, 2010)

Reading Level: Upper Middle Grade/YA

Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Star (A definite must read)

Description from GoodReads:

The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl’s journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro’s revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution’s impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía’s parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

The Red Umbrella is a moving story of country, culture, family, and the true meaning of home.

In late November 2009, I signed up for  The Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  The challenge – to read at least 12 novels by debut authors in 2010.  With this review, I will be logging in on #12.  WooHoo!  I still plan on continuing with the Challenge for at least another 12 books.  Now on to the review….

History does not have to be dry and boring and Christina Diaz Gonzalez proves that to us in her debut novel The Red Umbrella.  In this powerful and personal story of a young teenage girl named Lucia, readers learn about the events that took place in Cuba and the United Stated in the early 1960’s. Gonzalez used the stories of her parents and mother-in-law as the original seed for telling the world about Operation Pedro Pan, when families in Cuba sent their children to the U.S. to avoid Castro’s revolution.

According to Gonzalez, there were nearly 14,000 children who arrived in Miami during the years of 1960 to 1962.  Some were met by family and friends while others were placed in a camp until a foster home could be located for them.  Her research uncovered that of these 14,000 children nearly 90% were reunited with their families over a period of time.

With this as her background, Gonzalez paints a vivid portray of what life would have been like for a teenager in Cuba in 1961.  What might she have worn, or what music she listened to, or even what movie she might have seen.  This attention to detail and desire for accuracy rather than slow down the story allows the reader to image what life would have been like.  Lucia, along with her younger brother Frankie live a comfortable life with their parents.  Initially, their parents seek to protect them from the realities of Castro’s revolution.  However, there comes a point when their parents are no longer able to keep out the atrocities that are occurring.  In a final attempt to protect them, Lucia and Frankie are sent to the United States in hopes that they will eventually be reunited as a family.

The book is divided into two parts – the first half of the story provides you with the background and what is happening in Cuba.  The second half explores the reality of what it is like for Lucia and Frankie to live in a foster home while they wait and hope for reunification.

As I read The Red Umbrella, I was emotionally moved by the story of the Alvarez family.  Their story is one of loss, love, grief, and hope.  I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but keep a box of tissues near you as you read this book, and you do need to read this story.

For me, the story of the Alvarez family was made even more real when I had an opportunity to see Gonzalez at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.  The audience was filled with predominately Cuban Americans.  Many of these individuals had either been Pedro Pans or had left Cuba in some manner during the 1960’s.  The Red Umbrella was not just a story, but it was their story.  Some had hardly shared this story with their families.  Others were using this book to share a piece of their personal history with their children or grandchildren.

This is a powerful story, and an amazing debut novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.  I look forward to her next book whenever it is released and I hope that this book will receive the attention, accolades and awards that it is due.  If you don’t have this on your “to-be-read” pile, then get it on there.

You can find out more about Christina Diaz Gonzalez on her website here: http://www.christinagonzalez.com/home.html

You can find her on Twitter @christinadg or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/christinadiazgonzalez?ref=ts

You can purchase of signed copy of The Red Umbrella (while copies last) at Borders Glendale.

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Debut Author Signing

Way back in December, I signed up for the Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  As I was searching for books to read for the challenge, I discovered Sea by Heidi R. Kling, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and eventually Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes.  I loved all three of these books.  You can find my review of Sea here, and I will be posting reviews for The Red Umbrella and Tortilla Sun later this week.  Just a warning, keep tissues by you when you read them.  Each book deals with the themes of loss, grief, and hope in their own powerful manner, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself tearing up.

After waiting for the books to finally be released, and chatting with the authors via Twitter and Facebook, I found out that not only would they be doing a book event in Southern California but that I would have an opportunity to help out.    Thanks to MyGirlSnark (Amber) and Frootjoos (Alethea), I was granted “green room” privileges.  Just a fancy way of saying I had a chance to hang with our wonderful authors before the event.  Here is Heidi signing a copy of Sea before hand (Christina is in the background signing books).

Jennifer Cervantes’ daughters challenged Christina to try some of the hot salsa.  Here she is deciding whether or not her mouth was on fire.

At the signing, Jennifer, Heidi, and Christina shared the mic.  They talked about their books, read snippets, answered questions and brought goodies to raffle off. (Oops!  Forgot to take pictures of the raffle prizes.)

One lucky family won three of the prizes.  Since I was helping with the Q & A, and the raffle drawing, I didn’t get pictures.  Next time, I need to make a list of the kind of things I need for pictures and assign someone the task (but thank you Frootjoos for trying to run around and snap some pictures).  I will say the prizes were very cool.  There was a Sea tank top, a red umbrella (read the book to discover the significance), a mug, and a beautiful Mexican bowl, and a couple of special necklaces.

After all of the books were signed, we did manage to group a group shot of the authors, Borders Staff members, and volunteer staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was very thankful for being allowed the opportunity to participate in the behind the scenes activities.

This is my last known author event for the summer but I am seriously looking forward to the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour in September.

-Aly

P.S. If anyone is looking for a signed copy of any of these books, give Borders/Glendale a call.

Upcoming Author Event – You’re Invited

On Sunday, August 1, 2010, at 2 p.m., Borders/Glendale will be hosting three amazing 2010 debut authors for a book signing.  You did read that right – three authors.  Jennifer Cervantes (Tortilla Sun), Christina Diaz Gonzalez (The Red Umbrella), and Heidi R. Kling (Sea) will be speaking about their respective books, and answering questions.  There will probably be some other surprises and you might even be able to spot one or two other YA authors in the audience.

Where:  Borders/Glendale – 100 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91204

Time:  2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

What to bring:  Yourself and a friend or two (or three)

Books by each of these awesome authors will be available for purchase at the store.  Consider purchasing one for yourself and an extra as a gift to a friend, or a school library.

Looking forward to seeing any Southern California folks there.

-Aly