14 yr old Lucia Alverez is excited about an unexpected break from school, thanks to Castro's revolution. Lucia's parents fear for her safety. Lucia and her younger brother Frankie can't leave the house. When Lucia and Frankie sneak out, they see their dad's boss interrogated and threatened by Castro's men. Slowly, Lucia begins to realize the Cuba, she knows and loves is changing. When Castro came into power, family and friends became enemies. Lucia and her best friend Ivette, grow apart. Ivette joins the Jovenes Rebeldes, a communist youth movement in Cuba. Lucia's parents won't let her join. I didn't instantly like Lucia. She fought her parents, and didn't understand why they were against Castro.
Somewhere along the way, I realized a 14 yr old who is forced to stay home (even if there's a good reason) will fight their parents. Also Castro's ideas looked good to Lucia because they differed from her parents. The early tension between Lucia and her parents, made it easy for me to imagine parents and children choosing different sides. If things had gone differently, Lucia could've run away and joined Jovenes Rebeldes. This was one of the books strengths. Gonzalez allows the reader to consider what if. What if Frankie hadn't gotten sick, and Lucia never passed that oak tree?
After the oak tree, Lucia has seen too much and trust her parents completely. Lucia's parents try to give the impression that they support Castro, in hopes that it will keep them safe. Its not enough. They are worried about the safety of Lucia and her younger brother, Frankie. They decide to send Lucia and Frankie to the U.S. alone. Between 1960 and 1962 ( Red Umbrella, 1961) Operation Pedro Pan was in effect. Many Cuban parents who were against Castro sent there children to the U.S. alone.
Lucia and Frankie are in Miami for a short time. The two are placed with a husband and wife in Nebraska. They keep in touch with their parents through letters and the occasional phone call. The author does of allowing the reader to feel Lucia's experiences. The Alveraz family connection and love is very strong. I thought the author could've developed certain aspects a little more. One day Lucia runs into Laura, a classmate. Her father was arrested for spreading anti -revolutionary lies. I thought Laura woud've made a good character I would've loved a conversation about Castro's ideology between Lucia and Laura.
The author used, Ivette to give a voice to Castro's belief, with letters to Lucia. They didn't feel natural to the story. It was the only time the Gonzalez faltered in blending fact with fiction.
The Red Umbrella is wonderful read. Gonzalez tells a great story. A red umbrella makes a few appearances, I especially loved the last one. The author has mastered the art of symbolism. There aren't many middle grade novels about how Castro's rule impacted Cuban families. I believe this is the first one about Operation Pedro Pan. Its a very good first.
Read an excerpt The Red Umbrella could be paired with Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines. It's a beautiful memoir about a boy growing up in Cuba when Castro came into power.