Tuesday, November 2, 2010

90 Miles to Havana

In 90 Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis narrates the story of a small boy who is sent with his two brothers to a camp outside Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which transported over 14,000 children from Cuba to Miami for parents that could not leave themselves and were afraid that their children might be brainwashed by the new Communist regime or pressed into military service. Though his novel is fiction, it is directly inspired by his personal experience. Like the little boy in the story, Enrique Flores-Galbis had two older brothers, and he left Cuba at age 9 as part of Operation Pedro Pan .

The story is full of exciting and sobering events: the revolution in Cuba, the splitting of families, the danger of a new place, bullies, and the difficult decisions that Julian (the little boy) has to face all by himself. In the beginning of the book, Julian is a little boy who lets his two older brothers think and make decisions for him. (Even though his friend Bebo is teaching him how to think for himself, he rarely uses what he's learned.) In the end, he learns to make his own decisions and to weigh his own motives in trying to determine right and wrong. Throughout the book he encounters characters that teach him about courage and fear (the bully Caballo and his brave friend Tomas), justice and tyranny (the camp cook Dolores), pride and humility (Cuban radio show-host Armando). He learns to season trust with caution, and comes to the conclusion that there can be no price put on human life.

Though this book is clearly written for mid-grade children, these are themes and decisions that many adults ought to hear and weigh in their minds over and over again. Many children will never have to face such extreme situations with such permanent consequences as appear in this book. However, I think it is very valuable for children to develop at an early age a good understanding of courage and justice and humility; that every action and decision has consequences that should be considered beforehand; and that it's valuable to take initiative in making those decisions.

As I'm sure many of these stories are in reality, 90 Miles to Havana is somewhat of a bittersweet tale. The Cubanos have left friends and family behind. They have endured unthinkable hardship and danger. Yet, in the end, the family almost whole again, the American bullies aren't quite so mean as the Cuban ones, and Julian believes that the hard place he built around his heart while on his own will someday melt when his father comes to be with them in Connecticut. 90 Miles to Havana is a book of hard, but hopeful change. It will certainly give you a fast and thought-provoking read.