Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Bluest Sky

Gonzales, Christina Diaz. The Bluest Sky
September 6th 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eleven-year-old Héctor lives in Cuba and his mother and older brother Rodrigo in 1980. His father is in the US after having been imprisoned for his outspoken political views. Héctor is much more concerned with qualifying for a math competition and fishing with his best friend Theo and his twin sister Isabel than he is with politics, even though his abuela (his mother's mother) is a delegate to the National Assembly and a staunch supporter of Castro's Communist government. The government has opened up some avenues for people to leave the country, but they are difficult: people are allowed to leave from Mariel, but have to have passage on a boat and get permission. As more and more people in Héctor's world leave, and his older brother approaches draft age, Héctor's mother makes plans for the family to join the father in the US. His abuela is not happy and wants the boys to stay with her, expressing the opinion that the father was always no good. When crowds attack Héctor's house because word has gotten out that they are leaving, a tragedy occurs. Luckily, the family is still able to leave, and are ready to go when the government officers come to take possession of their home. There is a long and unpleasant wait to get permission from the authorities, and when they finally are next in line, things do not go easily. Will the three be able to start a new life in the US with the father?
Strengths: The most effective part of this book is Héctor's friendship with Theo and Isabel and their every day lives in Cuba. Like the descriptions in Senzai's Escape From Aleppo or Warga's Other Words for Home, these details make it easier for young readers to understand that people forced out of their countries are just like them, and have everyday concerns about school and friends, and would prefer to stay in their country if it were safe to do so. Héctor's love of math and his success at the competition, along with his teacher's support, offered an insight into his character, and the fact that he called his father hoping to stay in Cuba so he could compete is absolutely typical of how tweens can sometimes have a narrow outlook centered on their own concerns. The fact that the grandmother was in a political position to make things easier for the family showed how powerful the government could be, and also how families can be split in their political views. The friendship with Theo and Isabel was both heart warming and heart breaking. This is a fantastic book for building empathy for others, like Dassu's Boy, Everywhere or Athaide's Orange for the Sunsets, and made me realize that I really need to read a heavy duty history of Cuba in the twentieth century to remedy my lack of knowledge about this country. 
Weaknesses: While I love the boats on the cover, this book begs for a photographic cover of Cuban coastline, and the blue sky of the title. 
What I really think: The details about what Héctor went through were gut wrenching, especially in light of so many similar situations in the world today where children are forced to leave beloved countries. There have been a number of books about Cuba set in the 1950s and 60s, so it's interesting to know more about the events of the 1980s. I hope that the day will come when there are happier stories coming out of this country. 

Ms. Yingling

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