Cuba in My Pocket

Farrar. Sept. 2021. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374314675.
Gr 4-6–Twelve-year-old Cumba Fernandez is a normal kid in many aspects. He has a loving family, friends at school, and loves building models so one day he can be an architect. However, life in Santa Clara, Cuba, is far from ordinary in 1961. Fidel Castro, now in power after his successful campaign against dictator Fulgencio Batista, has defeated a group of Cuban refugees who tried to overthrow Fidel during the Bay of Pigs invasion. But as Cumba’s grandfather noted “we traded one dictator for another,” and life was hard in Cuba. Children were sent to Russia for military training or forced to join the Young Rebel forces. In addition, people were executed; schools’ curriculum modified to disseminate communist propaganda; neighbors turned against one another; and churches were closed, with foreign priests expelled. Cumba’s parents have only one choice. First-generation Cuban American author Cuevas offers a historical novel inspired by the experience of her father, who as a boy had to leave Cuba alone and start a new life in the United States. The 34-chapter work, written in English with some Spanish terms interlaced in the narrative, is divided into two sections—one depicting Cumba’s life in Cuba, and the second, starting in chapter 12, exploring his life in Florida. Of interest to educators, the text contains many English vocabulary words. However, the novel is filled with secondary characters that help to move the story forward but lack meaningful character development. What makes this novel strong is Cuevas’s ability to capture the spirit of this Caribbean country, its food, flora, and fauna, and Cubans’ cultural traits. The book contains a glossary for terms used throughout.
VERDICT A fast-moving novel for middle schoolers who enjoy historical fiction that could work well in a social unit covering child migrants, authoritarian governments, and humanitarianism.

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