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Before We Were Free


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About the Author

Julia Alvarez grew up in the Dominican Republic before emigrating to the United States at the age of 10. She now lives in Vermont, where she is a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.


Gr 6 Up-In How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Algonquin Books, 1991), Julia Alvarez used her own experiences as a refugee from the Dominican Republic to create a collection of stories about coming to the United States. The Time of the Butterflies (Algonquin, 1994) is her fictionalized account of the revolution that occurred in her homeland in the middle of the 20th century. Before We Were Free (Knopf, 2002) provides a realistic story about what it might have been like for a young cousin of the Garcia girls who did not flee the Dominican Republic to live through the turbulent dictatorship El Jeffe. The account is related from the viewpoint of Anita, an observant but naive 12-year-old upper middle class girl. For the de la Torre family, the weeks following the Garcias' departure from their island home are filled with peculiar strangers, mysterious adult activities, strained social affairs and, ultimately, a horrible sojourn in hiding. Alvarez's protagonist is credible for her age, and the events that she witnesses-including El Jeffe's sexual advances on a slightly older girl, her own father's involvement with the revolution, and the terrors of living in hiding-are presented realistically. Alvarez reads her own work here, giving Anita a clear and determined voice. This is an essential addition to audiobook collections in schools and public libraries, both for curriculum support and as an engaging book enjoyment. Both the story and the performance are deeply satisfying and will spark interest in a variety of social sciences, as well as in Alvarez's related books.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

In her first YA novel, Alvarez (How the Garc!a Girls Lost Their Accents) proves as gifted at writing for adolescents as she is for adults. Here she brings her warmth, sensitivity and eye for detail to a volatile setting the Dominican Republic of her childhood, during the 1960-1961 attempt to overthrow Trujillo's dictatorship. The story opens as 12-year-old narrator Anita watches her cousins, the Garc!a girls, abruptly leave for the U.S. with their parents; Anita's own immediate family are now the only ones occupying the extended family's compound. Alvarez relays the terrors of the Trujillo regime in a muted but unmistakable tone; for a while, Anita's parents protect her (and, by extension, readers), both from the ruler's criminal and even murderous ways and also from knowledge of their involvement in the planned coup d'tat. The perspective remains securely Anita's, and Alvarez's pitch-perfect narration will immerse readers in Anita's world. Her crush on the American boy next door is at first as important as knowing that the maid is almost certainly working for the secret police and spying on them; later, as Anita understands the implications of the adult remarks she overhears, her voice becomes anxious and the tension mounts. When the revolution fails, Anita's father and uncle are immediately arrested, and she and her mother go underground, living in secret in their friends' bedroom closet a sequence the author renders with palpable suspense. Alvarez conveys the hopeful ending with as much passion as suffuses the tragedies that precede it. A stirring work of art. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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