Two-time Newbery Medalist Paterson turns her attention to 1961 Cuba in the story of 13-year-old Lora Llera, who volunteers to become part of Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign—to her parents’ dismay. She and hundreds of other volunteers of all ages spend months living with farmers in the countryside, working alongside them during the day and teaching them to read and write at night. (Castro intended to have a fully literate population within a year’s time, and the brigadistas were an important part of that plan.) Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism, though she skirts many of the political hot-button issues that surround Castro’s rule. An author’s note and timeline fill in additional details about Cuba’s past, but Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl. Ages 10–14. Agent: Allison Cohen, Gersh Agency. (Oct.)
Gr 5–8—Lora Díaz Llera, 13, lives with her family in Havana, Cuba. In 1961, Fidel Castro creates the Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización en Cuba, a governmental initiative designed to abolish illiteracy in the country. Lora, having been taught to help others, wants to volunteer for Premier Castro's literacy brigadistas, who are tasked with going out into the countryside to teach others how to read and write. Despite her family being reluctant for her to take part in this, Lora soon leaves for training and journeys to the countryside to take up residency with a family: Luis, Veronica, and their three small children. Lora finds deep satisfaction in teaching, but the atmosphere is intense. Not only do the men generally resist her efforts—finding it hard to be educated by a young girl—but there is the ever-present threat of attack from members of the resistance. The story is told solely from Lora's perspective; she views her brigadista work as a calling and a way to give back to those less fortunate than herself, despite her own humble beginnings. Filled with moments of racism, prejudice, sexism, and ageism, the issues and themes explored will raise questions, hopefully spark further research into Cuban history, and fuel discussion. VERDICT Paterson offers a moving look at an episode in Cuban history. Consider for fans of historical fiction.—Stephanie Charlefour, formerly at Wixom Public Library, MI
Paterson offers a coming-of-age tale about a girl stepping up to be part of something greater than herself in post-revolution Cuba. It's 1961 in Havana, and 13-year-old Lora, inspired by the revolutionary sense of freedom in the air and her dreams of pushing past the expectations of gender and circumstance placed on her, has decided she wants to be part of Premier Fidel Castro's campaign to make Cuba a literate nation in one year. Soon she finds herself in the countryside with the Conrado Benitez Brigade, teaching and working alongside her campesino host family. But the specter of war and unrest is everywhere, as is the tension between resisting and embracing the coming social change. Readers should not expect an action-packed tale, but the writing is straightforward and moves at a swift pace. Paterson offers a glimpse of the daily life of a brigadista, redressing the cursory associations many have about Castro's Cuba. Hers is a positive study of an amazing moment in history that nonetheless acknowledges the darker political machinations at play. An unnecessary epilogue threatens to undo the nuance of the novel, and the italicized Spanish is distracting, but the themes of literacy, freedom, and community stay strong. Educational and inspiring. (author's note, timeline) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism...Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl.
Paterson offers a glimpse of the daily life of a brigadista, redressing the cursory associations many have about Castro's Cuba. Hers is a positive study of an amazing moment in history that nonetheless acknowledges the darker political machinations at play...the themes of literacy, freedom, and community stay strong. Educational and inspiring.
Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating...portrayal of a turbulent time in history.
...the issues and themes explored will raise questions, hopefully spark further research into Cuban history, and fuel discussion. Paterson offers a moving look at an episode in Cuban history.
—School Library Journal
Motivational and clearly written with purpose and historical interest, Paterson's tale about the need for societal change and the positive impacts volunteering has for young people is important and intriguing.
As always, Paterson eloquently delivers a fascinating slice of history, then gives her readers important points to ponder, making My Brigadista Year a gloriously timeless story.
Lora will engage tween and teen readers who may seek out Lora’s inspiration, the work of Josè Martí, Versos Sencillos/Simple Verses (Arte Público Press, 1997).
The story is well-written with a strong main character determined to show her worth in a world that has minimal expectations for a young teenager, let alone a young female teenager.
—School Library Connection
A story written in the beautiful way that only Katharine Paterson can achieve, I also learned a lot about Cuba’s history and got a taste of what life must have been like in 1960s Cuba.
This story is of the personal determination that risked comfort and safety to bring those desired changes for others. It’s an inspiring, eye-opening, and courageous story that will impact its readers and bring an awakening to each person’s place in society.
—Story Monsters Ink
In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives...Lora’s story helps readers see how the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude overcame extreme hardship.
This beautiful, powerful, and surprising book gives insight into a Cuba most Americans have never seen and into the life of a young girl willing to risk everything she has to share her love of the written word with others.
—Shelf Awareness Pro
A fascinating, insightful and exciting work of historical fiction, My Brigadista Year is thought-provoking and profound on many levels.
—Kendal A. Rautzhan's "Books to Borrow . . . Books to Buy"
Based on historical events and the accounts of actual brigadistas, this is a fascinating story that brings into focus the dramatic experiment which raised the literacy rate in Cuba from 60 per cent to 96 per cent in one year. Paterson, now living in Vermont, has written a novel which will inspire young readers by demonstrating the difference one committed person can make in a community.
—Winnipeg Free Press
In 1961, Castro successfully deployed hundreds of thousands of young people to bring literacy to all Cubans within one year. This fictionalized account features Lora, a 13-year-old “brigadista” from Havana who is assigned to teach, live, and work with an illiterate mountain family of farmers. Frankie Corzo's narration is spot-on. Her accented English is warm and clear, and her precise enunciation reflects the character of the intelligent and dutiful Lora, who believes firmly in her role as a teacher and literacy revolutionary for her country. Corzo’s gentle voice communicates Lora's tenderness for her family and young brothers, her impatience with a fellow brigadista's romantic distractions, and her joyful pride as the adults under her tutelage learn to write their names. An inspirational and little-known piece of history. L.T. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine