The Red Umbrella is the story of Lucia Alvarez, a Cuban teenager in 1961 whose country has been taken over by Fidel Castro and his revolution. What I love about the book is how realistic it is, which makes sense since it is based on the experience of the author’s parents. From 1960-1962, 14,000 kids without their parents emmigrated from Cuba to the United States in what eventually was called Operation Pedro Pan. Many of these kids did not have any relatives to pick them up from the airport when they landed on U.S. soil, essentially making them orphans.
The first half of the book is set in Cuba and we get to watch more and more freedoms disappear. The second half is Lucia’s trip to the United States, specifically Nebraska. Nebraska being pretty different from Cuba, Lucia has a tough time fitting in. The dialogue is spot on and some of the assumptions that people make about foster children or race are statements that I’ve heard in real life. Her foster mother gives her tobasco sauce to put on her breakfast because she “read that people in Mexico eat it”. After Lucia’s tongue nearly catches on fire, she explains that Cuba and Mexico are different countries. Lucia is able to blend in better than a character like Fadi from Shooting Kabul, but there is still a drastic adjustment period.
The setting of communist Cuba is not talked about much in teen fiction, at least not that I’m aware of (please comment if you can think of other titles), so Red Umbrella was a fresh read for me and definitely one that I will recommend for students and staff.