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The Red Umbrella Hardcover – May 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6–9—Fourteen-year-old Lucía lives an easy middle-class life in 1961 Cuba, thinking only about clothes, boys, and dances. When Communist revolutionaries occupy her town, an escalating witch hunt against capitalists compels her parents to send her and her brother to the U.S. under the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau (as part of "Operation Pedro Pan," which—the endnotes explain—was the largest-ever exodus of unaccompanied children in the West). Lucía eventually settles with a foster family in Nebraska, where she comes to terms with her duel identity as a Cuban exile and an American teen. She must also piece together a picture of what's happening to her parents and friends at home from interrupted phone calls, censored letters, and newspaper articles. This well-written novel has a thoroughly believable protagonist and well-chosen period details. It should be noted, however, that Gonzalez portrays the single sympathetic Communist character as increasingly brainwashed. Few readers will recognize the polemics driving this convincing story, but as an introduction to the history and politics of the Cuban-exile community, it could generate some excellent classroom discussions.—Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

When Castro comes to power, teenage Lucía wants nothing to do with the revolution; she is more worried about what to wear to the school dance. Then she witnesses the horrifying public hanging of her father’s boss, and her parents send her and her little brother, Frank, to safety in the U.S., where a church places them with a kind foster home in Nebraska. Based on the author’s parents’ story, Gonzalez’s first novel captures the heart-wrenching, personal drama of family separation. At the start of each chapter, a brief newspaper headline gives a glimpse into Cuban politics and history, but the core of Lucía’s first-person narrative is her emotional upheaval as she cares for Frank and tries to fit into her eighth-grade class, where everything is strange and different. The characters, including the loving, imperfect adults, are authentic, and teens will recognize Lucía’s rebellious moments, which sometimes get ugly, as well as her anguish over costly long-distance calls “home” and her hope for reunion with her family. Grades 6-10. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Series: AWARDS: Golden Sower Young Adult 2013
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375861904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375861901
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,453,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christina grew up in a small Southern town in the Florida panhandle, but she's always been in touch with her Cuban heritage. She loves having breakfast with pan cubano and Southern style grits-- the best of both worlds! You can learn more about her at

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 80 customer reviews
The story is very well written and true to the era.
Ms. Gonzalez-Diaz based this story on the experiences of her parents and other Cuban children who came to the U.S. in the program known as Operation Pedro Pan.
Nelaine Sanchez
Honestly never really knew what happened in Cuba until I read this book.
Elizabeth Dreher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Whatcha Reading Now? on May 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Lucia Alvarez wants what any fourteen year old girl wants--
to spend time talking about boys with her best friend Ivette, to go to the movies and dances, and to avoid babysitting her annoying younger brother Frankie. It's just that her parents are so old-fashioned. Can't they see Lucia is old enough for a little independence?

When soldiers from Castro's Revolution arrive in Lucia's small town, her life becomes more oppressive, not less. Freedoms and friends disappear overnight. Finally her parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send Frankie and Lucia to the U.S. Alone.

The Red Umbrella, set in Cuba during 1961, by debut author Christina Gonzalez brings a culture and its past to life with this story of two children who were part of Operation Pedro Pan. It is, in fact, a personal family story for Ms. Gonzalez as both of her parents were part of the exodus of 14,000 unaccompanied minors who were sent to the U.S. in the early 60's to escape Castro's regime. The story of Lucia and Frankie Alvarez is a part of history that's generally not well known. The Red Umbrella deals with their upheaval with warmth, pathos and sometimes heart-breaking sadness.
-- Reviewed by Michelle Delisle
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Su on May 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
14-year-old Lucia Alvarez's life is turned upside down when Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba in 1960. Suddenly her best friend is a propaganda-spewing stranger, soldiers brutally kill her father's business acquaintances, and her parents are being closely watched. Lucia just wants to be an average teenage girl, hanging out with her friends, keeping up with the latest American fashions, and maybe even getting closer to her crush, but that can no longer be.

Then Lucia and her younger brother, Frankie, receive visas to go live with a temporary foster family in Nebraska. The culture shock is great and frightening; can Lucia manage a new language and culture, growing into a young lady in the meantime, when the fate of her parents and her beloved Cuba are so uncertain?

I have never read a novel like Christina Gonzalez's debut, THE RED UMBRELLA. This is a necessary story about an aspect of Cuban American history that has not received enough attention in YA literature--and best of all, it's extremely well written and engaging!

Gonzalez writes convincingly of all her characters. Lucia is partly your average teenager, desiring friendship, love, acceptance, and pretty things. Her parents are a believable blend of loving, strict, and worried, and Frankie is a cute and appropriately occasionally annoying younger brother. The way the story follows Lucia through this difficult time in her life, however, is a miraculous achievement: my heart ached as I read about the difficulties she faced, and I saw a distinct, yet subtle, growth in her as she realizes the extent to which Castro's takeover would affect her life.

The pacing and plot were a little uneven, though, and thus not as fulfilling as it could've been.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Piri23 on May 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
From the moment I started reading The Red Umbrella, I could not put it down! Somehow, Christina Diaz Gonzalez manages to weave intense dramatic scenes with bits of humor (at times, you can't help but laugh and cry simultaneously!). You will be captivated by the author's wonderful descriptions of the characters and beautiful way of making you feel like you instantly know and care about them. "Living through" the revolution through the eyes of the young Lucia truly takes you on a journey from the carefree innocence of childhood to the increasingly complicated life of a young woman who has been forced to deal with more adult situations than any teenager should have to go through. So thankful to the author for bringing this very real part of American and Cuban history to life!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Medrano on June 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I do not read fiction.
I read this book because it's about a moment in history of which I was a part of.
I was a "Pedro Pan" child.
I was fortunate enough to have my aunt, uncle and two cousins waiting for me at Miami International Airport the night I arrived from Cuba in 1961. I was seven years old. My mother and twelve year-old sister arrived the next day. We were very lucky to all have been reunited after one day. Many children weren't. Some never saw their parents again.
This easy reading, fictional true to life story taking place after Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959 is very well written. You get to know and love the characters and how the revolution gripped the country and changed their lives, for the worst. Their problems are real, just as they were when my mother was deciding whether she should send me out of Cuba, not knowing if she would see me again and then leaving her home, family and literally her life behind in a span of two days (not knowing if the "underground" plans would change at the last minute).
I have to admit I cried while reading this book because it brought back memories of small events and things I had completely forgotten about (example, my family in Miami waiting for hours or days to get a telephone connection to Cuba) that came back to me. Schoolmates that wore Cuban revolutionary clothes, in the PRIVATE school I attended (CIMA).
At one point I wanted to get one of those outfits. I thought it was "cool". My mother was adamantly opposed to it. I was upset, but now I understand. No different from a child wanting a Hitler Youth outfit in 1940s Germany if the parents opposed the Third Reich.
Beautifully written, this book should be welcomed at any public or private school library.
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