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Before We Were Free Hardcover – August 13, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Realistic fiction for tweens
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What would life be like for a teen living under a dictatorship? Afraid to go to school or to talk freely? Knowing that, at the least suspicion, the secret police could invade your house, even search and destroy your private treasures? Or worse, that your father or uncles or brothers could be suddenly taken away to be jailed or tortured or killed? Such experiences have been all too common in the many Latin American dictatorships of the last 50 years. Author Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and her family escaped from the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic when she was 10, but in Before We Were Free she imagines, through the stories of her cousins and friends, how it was for those who stayed behind.

Twelve-year-old Anita de la Torre is too involved with her own life to be more than dimly aware of the growing menace all around her, until her last cousins and uncles and aunts have fled to America and a fleet of black Volkswagens comes up the drive, bringing the secret police to the family compound to search their houses. Gradually, through overheard conversations and the explanations of her older sister, Lucinda, she comes to understand that her father and uncles are involved in a plot to kill El Jefe, the dictator, and that they are all in deadly peril. Anita's story is universal in its implications--she even keeps an Anne Frank-like diary when she and her mother must hide in a friend's house--and a tribute to those brave souls who feel, like Anita's father, that "life without freedom is no life at all." (Ages 10 to 14) --Patty Campbell

From Publishers Weekly

In her first YA novel, Alvarez (How the Garc¡a Girls Lost Their Accents) proves as gifted at writing for adolescents as she is for adults. Here she brings her warmth, sensitivity and eye for detail to a volatile setting the Dominican Republic of her childhood, during the 1960-1961 attempt to overthrow Trujillo's dictatorship. The story opens as 12-year-old narrator Anita watches her cousins, the Garc¡a girls, abruptly leave for the U.S. with their parents; Anita's own immediate family are now the only ones occupying the extended family's compound. Alvarez relays the terrors of the Trujillo regime in a muted but unmistakable tone; for a while, Anita's parents protect her (and, by extension, readers), both from the ruler's criminal and even murderous ways and also from knowledge of their involvement in the planned coup d'‚tat. The perspective remains securely Anita's, and Alvarez's pitch-perfect narration will immerse readers in Anita's world. Her crush on the American boy next door is at first as important as knowing that the maid is almost certainly working for the secret police and spying on them; later, as Anita understands the implications of the adult remarks she overhears, her voice becomes anxious and the tension mounts. When the revolution fails, Anita's father and uncle are immediately arrested, and she and her mother go underground, living in secret in their friends' bedroom closet a sequence the author renders with palpable suspense. Alvarez conveys the hopeful ending with as much passion as suffuses the tragedies that precede it. A stirring work of art. Ages 12-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 890L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; 1st edition (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375815449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375815447
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,783,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Kear VINE VOICE on September 28, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two thirds of an island in the heart of the Caribbean Ocean called Hispaniola. Christopher Columbus claimed this island for Spain in 1492, and it is here that he later returned, died and was buried. Over the years the Dominican Republic has struggled for freedom and independence. They fought for their independence from the nation of Haiti, which lies on the western one third of Hispaniola, and they suffered through the dictatorship of General Trujillo. This book takes place during the last years of the Trujillo dictatorship, in 1960 and '61.

In this book you will meet a colorful cast of characters from many different cultures and backgrounds. First there is Anita de la Torre, the 12-year-old narrator whose life changes dramatically over the course of a few months. You will meet her familia, her parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, who all live together on the family island compound. As the unusual and dangerous circumstances unfold in the story, many of Anita's relatives are forced to flee their tropical home for the colder climate of New York City. The dictator's men are everywhere. Those who oppose the dictator are often "disappeared" by the men in black, never to be heard from again. Then there are the mysterious phone calls about butterflies and tennis shoes. And just who is "Mr. Smith?"

You will also meet Chucha, Anita's long-time nanny. She is one of the most interesting people in the story. Chucha is from Haiti, wears only purple clothing (even her underwear has to be dyed!), sleeps in a coffin, and has dreams where she can see the future. She also won't go into the Wimpy's Supermarket because the automatic doors have convinced her that the place is cursed and haunted.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of the books I have liked the most. This book has many similarities with "Anne Franke's diary" both girls living in a cruel situation. Julia Alvarez did a terrific job creating an environment with a lot of tension. It was sad for me reading about a regimen I did not have known before and the lives that were gone in a country's attempt to obtain peace and freedom.

I loved how the author portrayed all the innocence in Anita's words so this book can be read for adolescents without describing the cruel and explicit violence lived in those times. I highly recommend this book not only to Dominicans or to adolescents, but for everyone from all ages. This book has touched me deeply.
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Format: Hardcover
As a 6th grade teacher, I like to keep on top of recent novels published for young adults. I read this and found it to be one of the best novels to be written recently for teens. I have also recommended it to many of my students who in turn have read it and have thoroughly enjoyed it as well.
Full of suspense (what will become of Anita and her new love for Oscar? what will become of the family? what will happen to the country?), Before We Were Free keeps students' interest yet does not steer away from good writing. Beautiful writing, suspenseful action, and characters worth caring about make this a book every young adult should read.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Julia Alvarez - Before we were Free. This talented, prize winning author, again has accurately written a fascinating novel about actual political events in the Dominican Republic during the critical period when her parents, family and friends sought freedom from oppression and won.
I am an Eye Witness. I was the the US Air Attaché at that time and was the tenant of their home when her parents had to flee to the United for safety.
Manuel J. Chavez
Lt. Col. USAF (Ret)
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A Kid's Review on February 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Story, "Before we were Free," Includes several interesting events. First Sam Washburn moves in and Anita falls in love with him. Second she started not liking him because he didn't pay attention to her. Then she started going through puberty and was hard to manage situation with her family and love life. The things Anita was having trouble understanding is when the SIM barged in the house and Raded the house set cameras and everything. They were trying to find Tio Toni. That was hidding in his "Casita" he made. Anita had so many quiestions but her mom couldn't answer to her because she didn't want to get her worried. Later on, towards the end of the story Anitas dad went to jail with Tio Toni and there died for their freedom. There are so many interesting events that happened througho ut he story. I encourage you to read the story and read on more about those other events I did't inculude; those mistirious events!
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Format: Audio CD
Julia Alvarez tells the story of the end of the Trujillo dictatorship (1960s Dominican Republic). She cleverly tells the story from the perspective of a pre-teen girl (Anita) while weaving in major political players and events. She captures Anita's loss of innocence as the oppressive political regime begins to impact her life first obliquely and then very directly. From the start, Alvarez engages us with her main character as she simultaneously paints on a much larger canvas. [As an adult male (without a pre-teen daughter), I found some of Anita's talk about growing into a woman and being in love with the boy next door tiresome, but it all felt right for the character.]

Alvarez doesn't shy away from the fiasco that took place after Trujillo's assassination, but she does leave off just before the country's first post-Trujillo elections (which were a farce, leaving a Trujillo crony in power for some thirty years). After you've finished the book, re-read the author's note at the beginning: Realizing Alvarez's intimate connection to the fictionalized events in the book is all the more poignant.

Note on content: Besides girlhood crushes, there is a brief, non-graphic mention of various forms of torture (ugly but important) and an allusion to Trujillo's penchant for young mistresses.

For adult readers, this is a sweet complement to Alvarez's wonderful earlier book, In the Time of the Butterflies, which tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, three key anti-Trujillo revolutionaries. While that book took us inside the resistance movement, having this book narrated by a child opens a window into how children are affected in times of oppression.
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