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90 Miles to Havana Hardcover – August 3, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7–Based on Flores-Galbis's experiences, this novel is deeply affecting. In 1961, Julian and his two brothers leave Cuba with 14,000 other children, in what is known as “Operation Pedro Pan.” History comes alive through the author's dazzling use of visual imagery and humor, which ranges from light to dark. This book is sophisticated, but can be read on many levels. Most children will be able to relate to the terror and excitement that Julian feels when he is separated from his brothers and all alone in an orphanage in Miami. The writing is poetic, yet clear as glass, and the gorgeous sentences do not slow down the briskly paced plot. Julian emerges as a more endearing, likable character with every page, and readers will be fully absorbed in his journey. The only minor disappointment is toward the end, when the narrator's heroism in helping strangers distracts readers from the more meaningful, long-awaited reunion with his family. Reluctant readers might need some help in early chapters, but once Julian's adventure begins in earnest, it's hard to imagine any child putting this book down.Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard High School Early College Queens, Long Island City, NY
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Drawing on his own experience as a child refugee from Cuba, Flores-Galbis offers a gripping historical novel about children who were evacuated from Cuba to the U.S. during Operation Pedro Pan in 1961. Julian, a young Cuban boy, experiences the violent revolution and watches mobs throw out his family’s furniture and move into their home. For his safety, his parents send him to a refugee camp in Miami, but life there is no sweet haven. He tries to avoid the powerful camp bullies (“the big eat the small”) while he waits in anguish for his parents, and in a wrenching parting, his two older brothers are sent away to a harsh orphanage in Denver. The messages get heavy at times about the meaning of democracy, at odds with the political and the camp power games. But this is a seldom-told refugee story that will move readers with the first-person, present-tense rescue narrative, filled with betrayal, kindness, and waiting for what may never come. Grades 5-8. --Hazel Rochman
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90 Miles to Havana is the story of twelve-year-old Julian who is living a normal happy life when the Cuban Revolution comes and changes everything, and he and his two brothers are sent to Miami and have to figure out their new lives.
Julian is a sweet kid. I found it endearing that throughout the book, even though there is a revolution and they are separated from their parents, Julian's main struggle is one of being an only child. HIs family is so used to seeing his as the baby who isn't ready for any type of responsibility that they hold onto that view of him long after he grows out of it. It is such a universal character arch and helps to make Julian more accessible. The family dynamics are very realistic. You can feel both their affection for and frustration with one another.
I think that Bebo the families servant is my favorite character. He sees everything and everyone so clearly. He also represents the population of Cubans for whom the Revolution was something positive. He let Julian stretch his limits without doubting him or seeing his as incapable like his family. I think that everyone needs a Bebo in their lives at some point.
One weakness of this book was the rosy view of democracy. There is a subplot involving the children learning to use democracy to solve their problems. But none of them seem to understand the revolution that they just left in Cuba (understandable) which I think is essential if they are to understand the difference between the old Dictator, the new Communist government, and the US government. And since this is a middle-level book perhaps it needed to be made clearer to the reader. If you went into this book with no prior knowledge of the Cuban Revolution or the way that children were sent away right after it I think that it could be confusing.
This is definitely a book about plot. So much is happening that character development has to take a backseat. Which is a bit unfortunate because there are a lot of characters and the lack of development sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate between them. There is nothing special about the writing. There is a lovely analogy of the revolution involving eggs that I found particularly compelling but other than that the phrasing is a bit sparse and external for my taste. However, that sort of writing often works very well for reluctant readers who just want to "get on with the story."
I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and I am going to suggest it to students when school starts up again. If you are interested in a book about Cuba, growing up, or brotherhood then look no further.