Into the Book

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The setting is Cuba, 1959. For Lucia Alvarez, a coming-of-age teen, her chief concern is spending her summer in the most enjoyable way possible – and her parents’ paranoia over the soldiers in town is only getting in the way. But when Lucia witnesses the arrest and hanging of the beloved neighborhood pharmacist, she realizes that not only her summer but also her entire future is in danger – by Fidel Castro and his Communist revolution.

Amidst the cries of Viva la revolution, Lucia struggles to hold her life together, hoping the revolution will settle down like some predict. But as her former friends join the movement one by one, Lucia watches the Cuba she loves blacken. Lucia knows her family is being watched for their resistance, and the last straw is drawn when a relative betrays them, resulting in her father’s arrest. Lucia’s parents commit the unthinkable and send Lucia and her brother to America alone. As she flies away from the Cuba she once knew, Lucia wonders if she will ever see her homeland – or her parents – again.

With a blunt narrative, The Red Umbrella uses this emotional plot to vividly paint the realities of the Communist revolution in Cuba. It captures the passion of beguiled followers, the reservations of resistors, and the frustration of those caught in between. The injustices that befall Lucia’s family leave no question about the evils of the Communist takeover. But when Lucia flies to America, she shows the reader another half of the Cuban Revolution – the immigration of refugees into the US and their struggle to start over on this foreign, but hope-filled, shore.

This transparent retelling of history has multiple benefits. It accurately portrays the Communistic reality and pungently contrasts it with American society. Lucia’s view of America brings a fresh perspective on the life we take for granted. By using an engaging plot, the book captures a segment of history that is often ignored and makes it accessible to a new generation.

While documenting Lucia’s struggles to grow up, however, the book wavers in its portrayal of adult authority. Though parents are appreciated in the end, they are not always obeyed, with or without consequence. Lucia resists her mother’s control and frequently fights for more “freedom,” even in such trivial things as makeup. Readers must recognize Lucia’s error and instead focus on the more important issues the book covers.

The book’s simplistic style makes for light reading, but a surprising amount of emotion and color is tucked in the up-front 1st-person narrative. It is tame but not superficial – it exposes the readers to the horrors of the Communist regime without stooping to graphic violence. While it is by no means a challenging book, the story’s revealing content makes it a worthy venture even for advanced readers.

However, the book includes a thread of juvenile romance that incites a worrisome amount of sexual content. Most of the references are confined to giggly emotions, but one scene ends in a frightening display of illicit love. A secondary character’s sexual assault is referenced distantly via letter. Additionally, the story contains a few instances of mild language. Lucia, in her attempts to learn English, accidentally says a crude word, and her mother occasionally takes the Lord’s name in vain in Spanish.

In summary, I found The Red Umbrella to be an enjoyable easy read. I was impacted by the honest portrayal of an under-documented segment of American history, but the troubling romance prevented me from enjoying the book in full. I recommend the story for its educational value, but only to readers that are mature enough to handle the sexual content.


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Published on 2 March, 2011. Last updated on

No Comments

  1. Andrew J.

    Aubrey, this book looks VERY interesting, although that’s a shame about the content issues. Thanks for posting!

    In Christ,
    Andrew

  2. Kaitlyn E.

    Thanks for the post, Aubrey. The plot and setting sounds good, though the content issue could be a deterrent. How big of a role do these scenes play, in comparison to the rest of the piece?

    Kaitlyn, on behalf of ITB

  3. Aubrey Hansen

    Thanks, everyone! The book is fairly new, and I believe it is the author’s first work. But I’m not certain on that.

    The issue of boyfriends comes up fairly frequently in the book, but even in Lucia’s mind it pales in comparison to the greater challenges. It’s not overwhelming, but enough to be a disappointment.

  4. Anonymous

    Sounds great, I am going to buy a copy for my mother. I must ask, doesn’t sex seem to a prevalent issue in teenagers minds? Seems only normal for it to be at least part of the story. Thanks for the review!

  5. Kaitlyn E.

    Anonymous. While your assumption that sex is a prevalent issue in the minds of teenagers, that does not make it a healthy subject to consume young readers. Here at ITB we understand that this relationship between a husband and wife is not only God ordained, but is also very beautiful. However, the Lord puts specific parameters around this subject, and expects us to follow them. We believe it is our duty, as reviewers on ITB, to inform all of our readers of the content included in any book. We cannot pass over this subject because it appeals to many young readers. It is up to their discretion to read the book or not, based off of the info we give. It is up to us to help them make the most educated decision that we can.

    -Kaitlyn, on behalf of the ITB Team

  6. Anonymous

    The book guys is not about sex, the only sexual content that happens is a friend telling another she was raped, that’s it. The story is beautiful, and it tells the struggle that a young girl and her little brother had to take in a new country away from her parents, I must admit it makes me feel bad, it is happening right now, Cubans everywhere are leaving their countries, making sacrifices like leaving families behind to achieve a better life for that same family. It really gets me pissed off when I hear people saying crap about them.

  7. Kaitlyn E.

    Anonymous:
    It is not our intention in any way to say that the book is about sex, or even say it is a bad book. Aubrey gave it the approval of recommendation. However, part of our job here at ITB is ensuring that our readers understand the possible content issues involved in our recommendations. The book does deal lightly with this subject, thus we inform our reader of this, in case it is a deterrent to them reading the book.

    Some of my favorite books deal with light adult content. I would still highly recommend them, but I do feel it is my place to ensure the readers of ITB know that these themes do occur. Our job is to help educate potential readers about a book, knowing full well they are capable of making their own decisions as to whether this book is right for them to read.

    Kaitlyn on behalf of ITB

  8. Aubrey Hansen

    I apologize for my belated response! I should note that, in addition to the rape, the protagonist “makes out” with a guy on-screen.

    Reading-level wise, the book is suitable for sixth graders. I would be cautious with the mentions of rape and making out, however, for readers that young.

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