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BOOK REVIEW: My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

| 23 March 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Candlewick Press
February 2018
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade / Historical Fiction


In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need?

Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby.

Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.


My Brigadista Year covers an interesting historical time of revolution in a package suitable for young/middle grade readers.

Lora sets a good example for people of all ages as she gives what she can to improve the quality of life of those less fortunate than herself, and she places true value on literacy and the way it can transform a person’s future.

While the story does deal with some pretty dark events, there is a certain lack of emotion throughout, and a shying away from the more serious elements of the Brigadista experience. But perhaps this lends itself better to younger readers, as it never goes into great detail about the atrocities taking place, so they can learn about this part of history without being left terribly traumatised.

One doesn’t have to know any Cuban history to understand and enjoy this book, and in fact there is a timeline at the end of the book which travels from the prehistory of around 4000 BCE all the way through to 2017, resulting in an engaging and informative package.



Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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