Before We Were Free, by Isabel Alvarez

Before We Were Free

Anita de la Torre is just trying to navigate the confusing world of school and first crushes. But life is more complicated than that, because Anita lives in the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s under the dictator Trujillo. People are disappearing, the Secret Police are everywhere, and many of Anita’s friends and family have already evacuated to the United States. But Anita and her family stay behind, and Anita eventually learns that her father, her uncle, and their friends are plotting a revolution. Day to day life is tense, and everything in Anita’s life changes suddenly and drastically on the day that Trujillo’s body is discovered by the secret police in the trunk of her father’s car. But the intended revolution is unsuccessful, and when her dad and her uncle are taken away by the Secret Police, Anita and her mother must go into hiding and eventually escape to the US.

Anita’s story is moving, and would make a good introduction to the terrors of this and other South American dictatorships from the recent past. And in fact, the story barely feels like it is set in the past – aside from a few references to poodle skirts the novel feels modern, which will make it accessible to more teens. Anita’s story is not only about politics and revolution, but is also a very tender coming-of-age story. Alvarez deals with all of these issues with a light touch, filtering the horror of the dictatorship through Anita’s young eyes. Anita is only twelve years old, but this book has definitely been marketed to a YA audience, from the beautiful teenage girl on the cover to the awards for YA literature. Readers will see Anita mature as she begins to understand the true nature of life in her country.

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