Review: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

February 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

For whatever reason, in the past year and a half or so I’ve read a few fiction books that have loose ties with the Dominican Republic and/or the Trujillo era. It hasn’t really been on purpose, but these books have given me a window into a time period and a world I knew nothing about before I read them–which is a characteristic of great fiction, in my little world.

Some thoughts:

All of the books I’ve read on the Dominican Republic so far are worthwhile endeavors, but I’m reviewing this book first because I think it’s the most accessible on the subject, and also because I feel it’s another subtle way I can pester encourage you to try reading more young adult fiction (expect a full diatribe on the subject sometime in the future).

The reason I like this book is because it focuses on the downfall of the Trujillo through the eyes of a twelve year old girl, and does so honestly–as a moody pre-teen, Anita is mostly self-absorbed at the beginning of the book and has little inkling of the revolution that is going on around her. I think that too many books that center around a national crisis tend to make kids more into adults than can be realistically expected; kids are still kids unless something affects them personally.

But the way Anita handles the serious scariness of the anarchy that unfolds kept me yelling “don’t go out there!” and “no! look out!” at the inanimate pages of the book until the story reached its ending (also realistic).

Pick it up if:

  • you want a fast, high-quality fiction read
  • you want to learn more about a fascinating time in Dominican history
  • you want a fine introduction to a talented author (I’ll definitely be checking out more Julia Alvarez)

Shelve it if:

  • you’ve just read the Diary of Anne Frank (seriously, we can only handle so much sadness at once, okay?)
  • you aren’t in the mood for a nail-biter

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