In 1961, Cuba’s new president, Fidel Castro, proclaimed a “war on illiteracy.” He enlisted an army of volunteers, some not yet in their teens, to travel to areas of the country where people had no access to education and teach them how to read. His goal was to wipe out illiteracy within his nation in one year.
In this fictional account based on Castro’s initiative, 13-year-old Lola is determined to become a brigadista, a member of the young literacy workers’ brigade. With her grandmother’s help, Lola persuades her reluctant parents to allow her to leave her sheltered life in Havana to go to a rural community where she will encounter hardship and possibly even danger—it is well known that a prominent literacy worker was murdered by rival political forces.
Though Lola is resolute, she struggles with fears: Will I be a good teacher? Will older men whom I have to teach oppose me? Will my life be threatened?
Lola moves in with a rural family. She grows to love them as she works alongside them during the day and teaches them and their neighbors in the evening. When they encounter life-threatening danger, Lola must decide: Will I finish my term? Or will I flee to the safety of my home in Havana?
In this enlightening juvenile novel, Katherine Paterson, renowned author of Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia, captures the dreams and idealism of Lola and her nation. In the author’s notes, Paterson writes, “My Brigadista Year is by no means intended to be a full or balanced account of all events occurring in Cuba in the year 1961. Fidel Castro committed many evils against his enemies, some of whom originally fought on his side for freedom from Batista but felt betrayed by actions of the new government when small farms were seized and innocent families relocated or put in camps.”
Through writing about Lola, Paterson was blessed with the adventure of seeing the world “through the eyes of a young person in a society quite different from my own.” Juvenile readers will benefit from her adventure, as well. Ages 10 and up. (Candlewick Press)