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In this fictionalized account of four pre-teens growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s under Fidel Castro’s regime, author Sonia Manzano—renowned for her influential role as Maria on Sesame Street—unmasks the dictatorship’s brutality, bloodshed, and betrayals that led to the destruction of families and communities.

Manzano tells the stories of Ana, Miguel, Zulema, and Juan in separate narratives, yet skillfully weaves them together with threads of shared relationships and experiences.

In 1959 Havana, Ana is reunited with her father, a supporter of Fidel Castro, after a separation of more than two years, and Ana longs for normalcy. But her life is turned upside down when her father is arrested by the same people for whom he fought. When tragedy strikes, Ana and her mother flee to the United States and struggle to make a new life for themselves.

In 1961 Miami, Fla., Miguel tries to understand why his parents sent him away from his home in Cuba. As he struggles to survive in the hostile culture of the boys' orphanage to which he’s been sent, Miguel is forced to use his wits for the first time in his pampered life.

In 1961, Zulema and her family, illiterate peasants, live in the Cuban countryside. Zulema has a burning passion to learn to read, but she has no hope of reaching her goal. That changes when Fidel Castro implements a literacy program with the objective of teaching all Cubans to read within one year. Young adults called brigadistas are sent to rural communities, including Zulema’s, and teach people to read using revolutionary propaganda. Zulema is delighted to be given the opportunity to read, but cultural expectations repeatedly hinder her until she finally becomes literate.

In 1961 Havana, Juan makes a living with Abuelo, his grandfather, the fruit seller. As the two push their cart through the city streets, peddling their produce, they are acutely aware of spies—neighbors and friends they’ve always known—who watch their movements, seeking any reason to accuse them of counterrevolutionary activity. Juan’s eyes are opened to the fickleness and cruelty of people who have been brainwashed by Fidel Castro’s ideology, yet his heart is filled with the hope of a better future.

Deeply stirring, educational, and at times humorous, this novel for middle school readers is an ode to young people who face incredible obstacles, yet “are rising past Fidel Castro’s shadow and Coming Up Cuban.” (Scholastic Press)

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