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 T�o 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.
In her first YA novel, Alvarez (How the Garc?a Girls Lost Their Accents) proves as gifted at writing for adolescents as she is for adults. Here she brings her warmth, sensitivity and eye for detail to a volatile setting the Dominican Republic of her childhood, during the 1960-1961 attempt to overthrow Trujillo's dictatorship. The story opens as 12-year-old narrator Anita watches her cousins, the Garc?a girls, abruptly leave for the U.S. with their parents; Anita's own immediate family are now the only ones occupying the extended family's compound. Alvarez relays the terrors of the Trujillo regime in a muted but unmistakable tone; for a while, Anita's parents protect her (and, by extension, readers), both from the ruler's criminal and even murderous ways and also from knowledge of their involvement in the planned coup d'?tat. The perspective remains securely Anita's, and Alvarez's pitch-perfect narration will immerse readers in Anita's world. Her crush on the American boy next door is at first as important as knowing that the maid is almost certainly working for the secret police and spying on them; later, as Anita understands the implications of the adult remarks she overhears, her voice becomes anxious and the tension mounts. When the revolution fails, Anita's father and uncle are immediately arrested, and she and her mother go underground, living in secret in their friends' bedroom closet a sequence the author renders with palpable suspense. Alvarez conveys the hopeful ending with as much passion as suffuses the tragedies that precede it. A stirring work of art. Ages 12-up.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 12, 2004
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Excerpt from Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez
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 Mund�n 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, Mund�n 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.