Before We Were Free

Before We Were Free

3.9 74
by Julia Alvarez

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Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship…  See more details below


Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In what PW called "pitch-perfect narration," in a starred review, a 12-year old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960 relates the terrors of her country's regime and the attempt to overthrow Trujillo's dictatorship. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In a preliminary letter to the reader, Alvarez, the author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and other well-known novels, notes that this "is a story that I would have lived had I not escaped to this country [the U.S.] when I was ten years old." The dedication is "For those who stayed," and it is indeed a tale of what happened to those Dominicans in 1960 - 61 who were not as lucky as Alvarez. Twelve-year-old Anita has always loved her life in the Dominican Republic, living happily among extended family in a compound, but over a period of a few months, as the dictatorship of General Trujillo and his secret police became harsher and harsher, all but Anita's nuclear family depart hurriedly for the United States. Anita's favorite uncle goes into hiding, and her father and his friends hold secret meetings. The American consul—and his handsome young son, just Anita's age—move in next door to Anita's family, and they feel somewhat protected by his presence. But as the underground resistance movement grows, a movement in which Anita's father plays an important and dangerous role, Anita realizes that their lives are in peril. Not even the maid can be trusted, and gradually their freedom is eroded. When the dictator is murdered, the secret police arrest Anita's father and uncle, and Anita and her mother must hide in a friend's closet for weeks until they can be spirited out of the country. Safe at last in New York, they are devastated when they learn what happened to their loved ones back in the Dominican Republic. There are parallels here to Anne Frank's diary, as Anita, concealed in a closet and frightened for her life, tells of her feelings in her own diary. This is aheart-wrenching tale and Alvarez makes it ring true, as Anita gradually discovers what is going on in her country against the backdrop of her own coming-of-age. An Author's Note at the end supplies some historical background. An important novel for every YA collection. KLIATT Codes: J*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2002, Random House, Alfred A. Knopf., 160p. map.,
— Paula Rohrlick
In the early 1960s, Alvarez's family moved to New York from the Dominican Republic, a country experiencing civil unrest and revolution under the authority of General Trujillo. An earlier Alvarez novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Algonquin, 1991), chronicles the lives of the young Garcia girls as they adjust to life in the United States. This book tells the story of their cousin, Anita, who celebrates her twelfth birthday in the year Trujillo is deposed. Her cousins, sister, and friends leave the Dominican Republic, her school closes, and she becomes aware of her family's role in the underground movement. Anita also experiences the pains of growing up—crushes, arguments with her sister, and getting her period. The novel unfolds slowly. Told from Anita's point of view, there are hints of unrest, such as a visit from the secret police, but Anita is kept from understanding what is happening. Consequently, she is naïve, and her story reflects her shallow views. As Anita becomes more aware of the underlying political dangers, she develops into a more reliable narrator, telling a compelling story. Particularly engaging is the diary she keeps while she and her mother are in hiding, revealing the fear of exposure and the boredom of being locked away. The ending emphasizes the sacrifices and the rewards of revolution. Although this book will take a while to involve readers, eventually the story will hold them until the last page. An author's note describes Alvarez's experience and why she wrote the novel. 2002, Knopf, 160p,
— Mary Ann Harlan
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-By the morning of her 12th birthday, in December, 1960, Anita de la Torre's comfortable childhood in her home in the Dominican Republic is a thing of the past. The political situation for opponents of the dictator Rafael Trujillo has become so dangerous that nearly all of her relatives have emigrated to the U.S., leaving only her uncle, T'o Toni, somewhere in hiding, and her parents, still determined to carry on the resistance. Over the next year, the girl becomes increasingly aware of the nature of the political situation and her family's activities. Once her father's cotorrita, or talkative parrot, she grows increasingly silent. When the dictator is assassinated, her father and uncle are arrested, her older brother is sheltered in the Italian Embassy, and Anita and her mother must go into hiding as well. Diary entries written by the child while in hiding will remind readers of Anne Frank's story. They will find Anita's interest in boys and her concerns about her appearance, even when she and her mother can see no one, entirely believable. Readers will be convinced by the voice of this Spanish-speaking teenager who tells her story entirely in the present tense. Like Anita's brother Mund'n, readers will bite their nails as the story moves to its inexorable conclusion.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A 12-year-old girl bears witness to the Dominican Revolution of 1961 in a powerful first-person narrative. The story opens as Anita's cousins (the Garcia girls of Alvarez's 1991 adult debut, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), hurriedly pack to leave the country. This signals the end of childhood innocence for Anita. In short succession, her family finds the secret police parked in their driveway; the American consul moves in next door; and her older sister Lucinda is packed off to join her cousins in New York after she attracts the unwelcome attention of El Jefe Trujillo, the country's dictator. Anita's family, it seems, is intimately involved with the political resistance to Trujillo, and she, perforce, is drawn into the emotional maelstrom. The present-tense narrative lends the story a gripping immediacy, as Anita moves from the healthy, self-absorbed naïveté of early adolescence to a prematurely aged understanding of the world's brutality. Her entree into puberty goes hand in hand with her entree into this adult world of terror: "I don't want to be a se-orita now that I know what El Jefe does to se-oritas." According to an author's note, Alvarez (How T'a Lola Came to Visit Stay, 2001, etc.) drew upon the experiences of family members who stayed behind in the Dominican Republic during this period of political upheaval, crafting a story that, in its matter-of-fact detailing of the increasingly surreal world surrounding Anita, feels almost realer than life. The power of the narrative is weakened somewhat by the insertion of Anita's diary entries as she and her mother take shelter in the Italian Embassy after her father's arrest. The first-person, present-tense construction of thediary entries are not different enough from the main narrative to make them come alive as such; instead, the artifice draws attention to itself, creating a distraction. This is a minor quibble with a story that imagines so clearly for American readers the travails of all-too-many Latin nations then and now. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.50(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3
Now that the SIM are gone and the Washburns are living next door, Mami and Papi decide we can go back to school.

But first, Mami sits us down. "I don't want you talking about what happened with your friends, she warns.

"Why not?" I want to know.

Mami quotes one of Chucha's sayings, "'No flies fly into a closed mouth.'" The less said, the better. "And that includes talking to Susie and Sammy," Mami adds, eyeing Lucinda and me.

Lucinda has become friends with Sammy's older sister, just as I have with Sammy. Poor Mundín is stuck without a new friend. But he says he doesn't care. Papi is giving him extra responsibility, taking him to work the days we aren't in school. Some nights after supper, Mundín gets to drive the car up and down all the driveways that connect the houses in the compound.

"If anything happens to me," Papi says from time to time, ((you're the man of the house."

"If he wants to be the man of the house, he's going to have to stop biting his nails," Mami says, breaking the tense silence that follows such remarks.

The night before going back to school, I spend a long time picking out my outfit, as if I'm getting ready for the first day of classes. Finally, I settle on the parrot skirt Mami made me in imitation of the poodle skirt all the American girls are wearing. But even after everything is laid out, I feel apprehensive about going back. Everyone will be asking me why I've been absent for over two weeks. I myself don't understand why we weren't able to go to school just because the SIM were on our doorstep. After all, Papi still went to work every day. But Mami has refused to even discuss it.

I go next door to Lucinda's room. My sister is setting her hair in rollers. Talk about torture! How can she sleep with those rods in her hair? For her outfit, she also picked out her skirt just like my parrot skirt, but she insisted on a poodle when Mami made hers.

"Linda Lucinda," I butter her up. "What are we going to tell everyone at school? You know they're going to be asking us where we were."

Lucinda sighs and rolls her eyes at herself in the mirror. She motions for me to come closer. "Don't talk in here," she whispers.

"Why?" I say out loud.

She gives me a disgusted look.

"VAy?" I whisper in her ear.

"Very funny," she says.

I sit around until she's done with her rollers. Then she jerks her head for me to go out on the patio, where we can talk.

"If people ask, just tell them we had the chicken pox, Lucinda says.

"But we didn't."

Lucinda closes her eyes until she regains her patience with me. "I know we didn't have the chicken pox, Anita. It's just a story, okayr,

I nod. "But why didn't we really go to school?"

Lucinda explains that after our cousins' departure, too many upsetting things have been happening and that's why Mami hasn't

wanted us out of her sight. Raids by the SIM, like the one we had; arrests; accidents.

"I heard Papi talking about some accident with butterflies or something, I tell her.

"The Butterflies," Lucinda corrects me, nodding. "They were friends of Papi. He's really upset. Everyone is. Even the Americans are protesting."

"Protesting what? Wasn't it a car accident?"

Lucinda's rolls her eyes again at how little I know. "'Car accident" " she says, making quote marks in the air with her fingers, as if she doesn't really mean what she's saying.

“You mean, they were-"

"Shhh!" Lucinda hushes me.

Suddenly, I understand. These women were murdered in a pre, tend accident! I shiver, imagining myself on the way to school, tumbling down a cliff, my parrot skirt flying up around me. Now I feel scared of leaving the compound. "So why send us to school at all?"

"The Americans are our friends," Lucinda reminds me. "So for now, we're safe."

I don't like the sound of "for now," or how Lucinda makes those quote marks in the air again when she says "we're safe."

Mami is actually a lot calmer now that the Washburns have moved in. Not only is it nice to have the special protection of the consul next door, but the extra rent money is coming in handy. Construcciones de la Torre isn't doing well. Everything is at a standstill because of the embargo, whatever that is. We're having to cut corners and sell off our uncles' cars and the furniture from my grandparents' house from when Papito was making money. I offer to let Mami sell my brown oxfords and old-fashioned jumpers I don't like. But she smiles and says that won't be necessary just yet.

Lucinda and I aren't the only ones to make friends with our neighbors. Manii starts a canasta group to introduce Mrs. Washbum to other Dominican ladies and help her practice her Spanish. Two or three tables are set up on the back patio. The ladies chat in lowered voices. Every once in a while, the new maid, Lorena, comes around with a tray of lemonades or clean ashtrays. Although Mami is trying to save money, there's too much work keeping up with all the houses in the compound for just Chucha. So Mami has hired the young girl to help out. But we have to be extra careful what we say around her.

"Why?" I ask. "Because she's new?"

Mami gives me a look that has "Cotonita! " written all over it. After I told Mami that her nickname for me was really getting on my nerves, she promised to stop using it. But she still lets me know with her eyes when I'm speaking up too much. "Just be careful what you say," Mami repeats.

I guess you can't trust a maid who hasn't changed anyone's diaper in the family!

Actually, I can't really complain about being asked to keep secrets. Sammy and I haven't said a word about our discovery. Twice we've gone back to Tfo Toni's casita only to find the door closed and the padlock in place. But there have been fresh footprints leading to and from the casita and a pile of cigarette butts, as if Someone without an ashtray has thrown them out the window.

"Very fishy," Sammy observes, an expression which he says means that something strange is going on.

Our compound is crawling with fish, all right.

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Before We Were Free 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the book to have a little bit of everything in it. It had culture, suspense, sad moments, and good times. I'm not Hispanic myself, but there were plenty things I could relate to other than the hardships Anita and her family went through dealing with their dictator. I think everyone can gain something from this book. I don't think you should consider it boring, but then again that's your opinion. Personally, I think a book can't be boring, it just might not be your type of book because all authors strive to catch a reader's attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Dominican-American, it was truly refreshing to read the impact the Trujillo dictatorship had through the eyes of a young girl. Julia Alvarez was really able to capture her own biographical narrative in this touching story. I look forward to having my own child read this story and allow him or her to learn about that terrible part of our Dominican history.
Abbey_Sullivan More than 1 year ago
Random House, Inc. publishing company made the right decision in publishing Julia Alvarez's 2002 novel, Before We Were Free. In this engrossing 163-page novella, the reader follows the struggle of 12-year-old Anita and her family's grueling quest for freedom. As the narrator of the story, it is easy to begin to understand and feel for Anita. Being the daughter of a hero radically opposing the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, she feels pressure that should never be felt by a girl of her age. All she wants is to be free, and that means leaving her country for the United States. Throughout the novel she survives things that even the strongest of people would find horrifying, living in appalling conditions and suffering great losses. Most will find it difficult to resist gaining respect for this resilient young girl. Anita, too, must face the difficult challenge of growing up while in the midst of her fight for freedom. The reader quickly develops affection for Anita as she awkwardly makes the jump from child to young woman. Because she keeps a diary, you get to know her innermost secrets and look into her world and the emotions she feels while going through such a confusing time, and therefore it is as though you connect with her on a very personal level. I liked the book because of its surprising twists and turns, which kept me captivated and itching to read on. At one point, the book turns into Anita's Diary for a few pages, which was unique and provided further insight into her mind. From watching her fall in love (more than once) to finding out about her family's double life, I was constantly on the edge of my seat. The ending was phenomenal. Julia Alvarez uses stunning symbolism here, as Anita stares out of her window looking at the snow angels she had made earlier. "What I see as I look down aren't angels but butterflies, the arm swings connecting to the leg swings like a pair of wings, our heads poking out in between! I'm sure if Chucha were here, she would say they are a sign. Four butterflies from Papi, reminding me to fly." Flying to freedom and away from her dictator are all she strives for through the entire story. This little metaphor was both cute and meaningful, illustrating her drive to be free. I learned a lot from this book. For example, I never knew how desperate the people of the Dominican Republic were or how they were treated. I found out that people actually suffered the trauma represented through the book, and were driven to almost unthinkable things. I learned a few Spanish words as well, that were scattered in italics throughout the novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy a thrilling novel that makes you think. It's a gut-wrenching and suspenseful tale that makes you feel like you are there seeing and experience the unjust treatment plaguing the impoverished country of the Dominican Republic. Before We Were Free is a quick, easy read that could be enjoyed by most.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anita de la Torre is a 12 year old girl from the Dominican Republic. The dictator of her country is cruel and brutal. Anita's father and Tio Toni have put together a group of the Dominican's bravest men to take down the infamous leader, Trujillo. This secret organization is being watched closely by the SIM, or secret police. If anyone found out about the secret organization, or its plan, Anita's whole family would be murdered. Most of Anita's relatives have already fled to the United States to protect their lives. The only family she has left in the D.R. is her mother, father, brother, Chucha, and Lucinda. Chucha has been the family's maid since Anita was a baby. Chucha has a premonition about the events to come in the following year, she tells Anita that Anita, her mother, her brother, and Anita's sister will all spread their wings and fly home soon. As the secret organization comes closer to bringing down the dictator, things around the de la Torre house hold become very tense. Anita starts to feel like she is being treated like a child because no one wants to explain the horrific things that are happening. Also Anita's mother is trying to protect her from worrying, fearing she is too young to handle what could be a fatal outcome of the mens plans. Anita is not to worried about whats going on around her, not just because she doesn't completely understand, but because the United States consul just moved in next door. The consul has a son Anita's age named Sammy. Anita thinks she has fallen in love with Sammy and they become best friends. But when the consul gets involved with the secret plans of the group, they flee back to the U.S. for safety. Anita is heart broken, losing yet another loved one to the U.S. Previous to Sammy's departure, Anita's older sister was sent to the U.S. because she was being watched by Trujillo. Trujillo kept many young women hidden at his golf club, because he knew that his wife would never find his young love interests there. Lucinda was quickly sent to live with her aunt and uncle in New York, avoiding becoming one of Trujillo's women. Will the men over throw the dictator? Will they live to see their country freed? Will Anita spread her wings and fly? I highly recommend Before We Were Free because its a very interesting book. There's a lot of twists and turns in this novel, and it will leave you hungry for more. Julia Alvarez leaves you hanging on her every word, and with each new chapter, comes a new outlook on life.
AndrewShields More than 1 year ago
Andrew Shields Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (published in 2007) was an interesting novel written in the first person perspective of a twelve year old girl named Anita. The story takes place from 1960 to 1961 in the Dominican Republic while under the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo. Anita is a normal twelve year old girl living a happy life with a large and stable family. But that all changes very quickly as she starts to notice that many members of her family are beginning to disappear. She is left confused by this and because of the constant coming and going of her father and uncle tony. She soon learns that her father and uncle were part of a big plot to murder the dictator. Uncle tony has gone missing, the rest of the family has left for New York and Anita and her mother are left at the house. They are there hiding from the secret police that come and raid there house.  Anita receives a diary for Christmas and begins writing all of her thoughts, feelings and experiences in it. This really paints a clear image in the reader’s head of just how frightened Anita must have been. Anita is forced to grow up very fast and as the book progresses you can really see her grow to be a mature young woman. Throughout the book she shows incredible courage trying to get a hold of freedom. During this struggle she says “I wonder what it would be like to be free? Not to need wings because you don't have to fly away from your country?” This quote really makes you realize how a lot of us take freedom for granted and don’t understand that the struggle families like Anita’s went through during this period of dictatorship.  I enjoyed reading this book because although there were some slow points, the majority of the novel was very interesting and I found myself very engrossed in the book. Alvarez did a great job writing this book, Anita was a great choice for narrator and I really enjoyed how she had a diary that she wrote her thoughts and feelings down in. This gave the reader a clear understanding of how Anita was feeling throughout the story.  Julia Alvarez grew up in the Dominican Republic during the time that Trujillo was the dictator. Although she was able to leave at age 10, she knew people that were forced to stay just like Anita and was informed of the struggle they went through just to survive. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a short but interesting novel or anyone who is looking into learning about the hard times in the Dominican Republic with Trujillo as a dictator.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Julia ALverez's Before We Were Free is an excellend and very exciting novel. The book is about a young girl names Anita de la torre. Anita is a 12 year old girl who grew up in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Jrujillo in the 1960's. Her whole life Anita has lived in a family compound built by her grandfather. Each time one of her cousins or other relatives married her grandfather would build another house in the compound. Anitas grandparents recently emmigrated for New York to get out of the country but she had no idea why. The contry is going through a tough time under the cruel dictatorship of Trujillo. Anitas uncle Tio Toni has to go into hiding and stay out of public. Anitas cousins and the rest of their families have also emmigrated for New York. The compound is almost completely empty with the departure of Anitas relatives. All that remains are Anita, Lucinda her sister, Mundin her brother, her mom, her dad, Chucha and Tio Toni shows up from time to time. Soon after Anitas faily and their house are searched and raided by the SIM secret police. They are watched for weeks and papa is also followed to work by a couple of all black volkswagons. The only thing Anita can do to feel free is write down everything in her diary. A couple weeks after the raid Anita and her family are getting new neighbors, the Washburn family. Anita and her family feel a lot more comfortable now that the secret police have left. After this many events come into place, Anita meets the Washburns son Sam and realizes she has met her first love, after recieving flowers from the cruel Trujillo Anitas sister Lucinda is deported out of the Donican Republic so she is not taken away from her family, Mundin now has to live with the Italian embassador now that the family is in danger, and after all the secret talk in Tio Tonis casseta him and papi set out to kill Trujillo. Now Anits and her mother cannot even stay in their home. They remain in their friends closet in hiding for months only coming out to eat scraps of food and to drink. Throughout this book Anita is growing up very fast. She is starting to realize what is going on around her but all she wants to do is gain her freedom. I really enjoyed this book. My mind got captured into the story and my attention was grabbed by the interesting writing style of the author. I would definetely recommend this book because it teaches people a lot of knowledge about the horrific yet exciting struggle of Dominican families during the dictatorship of Trujillo. I learned from this book to keep fighting for what you believe in and dont give up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is great because it shows how to become an American citizen and how bad it feels to move from your friends and family that came from there.You are going to miss your school,friends,and home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom growing up in the Dominican Republic. By her 12th birthday, her relatives start disappearing to the United States, her home is frequently searched by the secret police, and her family is forced into hiding. Suddenly she must struggle to overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all she once knew behind. Julia Alvarez¿s way of capturing a reader and enabling them to feel like they are part of the story is unrivaled. She gives young readers a glimpse of what a life is like where a dictator¿s picture hangs on walls in every home, and young girls are hidden from his dangerous eyes. She opens the book slowly, and gently reveals to the reader some of the harsh realities of life under a dictator. In the book, the author follows one girl¿s journey throughout an entire year of life in an environment where she never knows what is going to happen next, and her and her family are constantly living in fear. Through this time period Anita learns some of the graphic truths about her family and her freedom as a citizen of the Dominican Republic, and is forced to overcome her fears and do things she has never imagined before. Alvarez gives the reader a good sense of what living under a dictatorship was like at the time, but also gives the reader a good idea of the relationship between Anita¿s family, as is visible when Anita¿s father pleads to her, ¿I want my children to be free, no matter what. Promise me you¿ll spread your wings and fly.¿ When I read this book, I connected it to other books and events that have taken place in the world¿s history. For example, when Anita and her mother were in hiding, and Anita kept a diary to pass the time, I was reminded of Anne Frank when she was in hiding during World War II in Amsterdam. Anne also kept a diary which, unlike Anita¿s, is now world famous. Anita and Anne were very similar in many ways, because both of their lives changed before their eyes and they had to learn to live in a way they had never known before. Both girls also did not get along well with their mothers during the time they were in hiding, although they became closer later on. Overall, I felt that Anita de la Torre and Anne Frank were very similar in more ways than one. Although I was able to get into this book from the very beginning, there are some strategies that a reader can use to help them to better understand the text. Alvarez writes in such detail that it easy for the reader to constantly visualize what they are reading. As I was reading, I felt that applying this strategy helped me to feel as if I was really there in the Dominican Republic with Anita and her family. Having never lived in a country other than the United States, this was an extremely important strategy because I had to imagine what it was like in a country where there aren¿t big buildings and shopping malls everywhere, where it is always hot, and the people aren¿t like the people I have been exposed to in the United States. Most importantly, I have never lived under a dictatorship where my freedoms are stripped from me and I don¿t have half the rights I do in the United States, which is why visualizing is such a key strategy when reading this book. Because of my lack of knowledge about this country, I tried to use the little I do know about dictatorships and other countries like the Dominican Republic to help me as I read.
Anonymous 11 months ago
I read tjis last summer when i was in summer school and i liked it
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Whyhellopeople More than 1 year ago
It's a touching book and I recommend it to everyone.
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