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Review: My Brigadista Year

My Brigadista Year My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
Grades 6+
Book Talk
It's 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Lora is a 13-year old girl doing normal, pre-teen girl things. She attends school, has a few friends, loves to read, and spends time with her family (including her 2 pesky brothers). Her life is turned upside down when Fidel Castro overthrows General Batista and takes over as premier of Cuba. He puts out a call to his country, to bring literacy to all of Cuba in under a year. Lora feels a stirring to serve her country by signing up to be a brigadista, serving as a maestra (or teacher) to a farming family in the mountains. She is sent to live with the Santana family in the Escambray mountains. No running water, no electricity, none of the comforts that Lora has grown up experiencing. With only a few textbooks and a lantern, Lora must figure out how to teach her campesino family how to read and write and pass the literacy exams.
My Thoughts
The story itself is rather beautiful. I learned a lot about the culture and traditions of Cuban families in the 1960s, as well as the history behind the Cuban Literacy Campaign. Lora is a strong, believable main character that I wanted to cheer for as she pushed past her fear to serve her campesino family. Still, I am torn about recommending this book fully. There are strong anti-American sentiments throughout. The story is told from a pro-Castro perspective. That is hard for this patriotic, military spouse to swallow. But then again, the mark of a really excellent book is that it makes you think, question, and consider. I was doing all of these things as I read Lora's story.
My Recommendation
There is some violence in the story (family attacked and killed by brigands, a pig and chickens stolen and killed), but it is not graphic. No language or adult situations. This book is appropriate for middle grades and up (6+). I think the history and content is too heavy for elementary.
Give to fans of historical fiction and adventure, especially those looking for a strong female lead.

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Book Talk
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