The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Atmospheric and tense, the story held my attention from start to finish.
Hector loved his home, family, and friends, but the 1980s in Cuba were difficult times. Castro’s regime permitted no complaints, and those that spoke against the government soon found themselves imprisoned, thrown out of the country, and worse. Hector’s own father had spent years in prison before being exiled to the U.S. as a traitor, forced to leave behind his wife and two sons. Hector had been four when his father’s troubles began and had few memories of him, but Mamá and his older brother, Rodrigo, remembered and longed for the day they could all be together again as a family … in MIAMI. This was dangerous talk if someone overheard.
At 11, Hector, though cautious about his words and actions outside his home, was content. He excelled at mathematics and was studying with a tutor to represent Cuba at the upcoming International Math Olympiad in Easy Germany: the first student from their school to do so. His best friends, twins Teo and Isabella, lived across the street, and they had always been inseparable. Their loving family had opened their hearts and home to Hector despite the danger of association with a known traitor’s family.
But Mamá secretly had plans to reunite the family now that Castro had opened the port for those wishing to leave the small island country. But the path to freedom was not an easy one. The government erected administrative roadblocks all along the way and heaped humiliation after humiliation on those wanting to make their exit. To make matters worse, Hector’s abuela was an influential member of the Communist Party with spies everywhere who watched the family’s every move. She despised her daughter’s choice of husband, denouncing him every chance she got and demanding that Mamá and the boys forget him and follow her into the Party. But when Mamá’s plans came to light, the family’s decision to leave Cuba came with consequences that carried a terrible price.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a new middle-grade book that older readers would also enjoy and find enlightening. It combines historical events with fictional ones that could easily be the backstories of many Cuban refugees that literally landed on these shores. There are moments of complete heartbreak but also hope for new lives and freedom.
Although Hector is content for much of the first part of the book, it becomes clear he is so because he’s never known life to be anything different. The author envelops the characters and reader in an atmosphere of oppression, fear, poverty, and lack of the freedoms we know as fundamental to our lives in the U.S. But as the reality of life is revealed to Hector, he quickly loses that contentment. Just the effects the American embargo had on the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their homes (they couldn’t get the materials to do so) was eye-opening. The author has put names and faces, albeit fictional, to those suffering, personalizing it and making it real.
Besides the oppressive setting, the plot quickly becomes tense and dangerous. I held my breath numerous times during the family’s harrowing process of leaving the country and teared up with both sadness and relief at others. It may take me a while to get over this story.
The juvenile main characters are engaging, strong, and brave: boys and girls with whom young readers will readily feel a connection. The plot includes features of their everyday living, home life, food, and growing up. The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases whose meaning must be construed from context or looked up. Although it slowed the reading process down somewhat, I enjoyed looking up those that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t translate on my own.
With its taut storyline and engaging characters, THE BLUEST SKY would be a great book to share and discuss. I recommend it for middle-grade or older readers, which was well worth the reading.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.