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The Red Umbrella

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The Red Umbrella is the moving tale of a 14-year-old girl's journey from Cuba to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan—an organized exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children, whose parents sent them away to escape Fidel Castro's revolution.

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.

Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

The Red Umbrella is a moving story of country, culture, family, and the true meaning of home.

284 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

10 books262 followers
Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, the Moving Target duology, Stormspeaker, Concealed, and two upcoming books, Invisible (a graphic novel available in August 2022) and The Bluest Sky (a historical fiction novel available in September 2022). Her books have received numerous honors including the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Her work has also been designated as an American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and as an International Reading Association's Teachers' Choice book. Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors. Learn more at www.christinagonzalez.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 766 reviews
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
585 reviews5,587 followers
October 20, 2019
I read this book in one sitting, which is rare for me considering I’m such a distracted reader. This is such a heart-wrenching novel chronicling the rise of Castro’s power to Lucía’s journey to America through Operación Pedro Pan.

My neighbor is one of the children who went through the same thing Lucía and her brother did, and I’m so lucky to have been able to speak to him about this time in history that is hardly ever spoken about. This novel opened my eyes to a piece of Cuban history that I only knew little details about, thanks to my neighbor, and it wad eye-opening to see this novel describe what these children had to go through all alone during such a vulnerable time in their lives when things are unfamiliar and they are in a country they’ve never seen before.

It’s always so crushing to read about what Cubans have been through and all that they’ve sacrificed for their families and their futures, but every Cuban novel I read makes me grateful for all my family has done, along with other Cubans, in hopes of having a better life. It makes me glad that our stories are being told. They cannot be forgotten. I know I won’t forget.
Profile Image for Cara.
280 reviews699 followers
June 27, 2010
Ok, so I have to admit that when I started reading this book I wasn't clicking with it the way I wanted to. Looking back the problem was that I had an expectation of how the tone of the book should be like, but that's unfair to the book. I let my expectations fall to the wayside and I'm so glad I did.

Our protagonist, Lucia Alvarez, is living in Cuba at turbulent times when Fidel Castro is rising to power and families, friendships, and a sense of country are rapidly falling apart. Lucia though is focused on how her parents are being too overprotective, wishing she could dance with the boy of her dreams, and how big her quinceanera is going to be. Sure enough, Lucia starts seeing how wrong things truly are. When things seem like they couldn't get worse, they do. Her parents decide that she and her brother Frankie need to leave Cuba and go to the land of prosperity, the United States.

The contrast of cultures is what really impressed me. Though I'm not Cuban, I did appreciate some of the refrences made that reminded of things that are part of the Hispanic culture. Since the story is set in two different countries naturally we see how Lucia and Frankie cope with the change. I just laughed to see how they went from Cuba to Miami to a farmtown in Nebraska. Talk about a culture shock. I really could sympathize with Lucia. It would be beyond hard to be pushed to leave the only home you have ever known, and all the people and things that you connect with who you are. The author gives the reader a strong sense of the seriousness of the situation without it being too overwhelming for younger readers, which was essential so it could be enjoyable for the targeted audience. Mission accomplished.

In the beginning I couldn't grab a hold of who Lucia was, but having to witness her being brave because she had no other choice really gave me the chance to see the core of her character. Definite props to the author because I hadn't heard too much about Operation Pedro Pan before reading this book. Only misgiving I have is that I wish that the story and some of the characters had been more fleshed out.

The title, The Red Umbrella , is quite fitting. The part where we see the correlation made me tear up just a little bit. A book filled with fortitude, and the sense of what home is.
Profile Image for Kay Cassidy.
Author 7 books209 followers
November 7, 2009
I've been wanting to read The Red Umbrella ever since I saw the deal announced and was lucky enough to get to read an ARC. There was something about the premise that struck a chord with me from that first announcement, and I knew it would be special. I just didn't realize why until I started reading.

I'm a second generation American. My grandparents immigrated just in time for the Great Depression (not great timing, to be sure). The Red Umbrella made me appreciate my own heritage in ways I haven't thought of since my grandma passed away almost 10 years ago. But more than that, I connected with Lucia and Frankie and their parents and everyone who played a role in helping them through a difficult time. I felt like I was part of the story, and that's a very rare thing indeed.

The Red Umbrella is a wonderful, thoughtful book with a story and characters so compelling you can't help but cheer for them--and worry about them--every step of the way. But for me, it was even more than that. It was personal and meaningful and unforgettable. I laughed, I cried... one of my favorite books of the year.
Profile Image for ❤Marie Gentilcore.
874 reviews40 followers
June 28, 2017
I enjoyed the Red Umbrella very much. It was really good historical fiction and I learned a lot about this period of history. It is the story of the Alvarez family and is told by 14-year old Lucia as she and her family live through Cuba changing from a democracy to an authoritarian state in 1961. It also tells about a program called Pedro Pan where child refugees of Cuba were placed with American families until they could be reunited with their own families. It is sad what happened in Cuba over 50 years ago but it was interesting to watch the character grow as she became aware of the political changes taking place in Cuba and then following her journey in America.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books293 followers
July 21, 2010
This was great!!! It was a wonderful look at the early days of Castro's revolution and Cuban and American relations in 1961. The story is told from a 14 year old girl's point of view, Lucia.

Lucia has normal 14 year old growing pains. She likes boys, wants to wear make up, is irritated by her younger brother, Frankie, but instead of having a normal teenager's life, Cuba, her country and home, goes into turmoil. When Castro and his revolutionary followers take over the government, not only is there soldiers everywhere, but also people being branded as traitors to the revolution. Unfortuneately, because her parents believe it's ok to have a different opinion from Castro, Lucia's family is branded as traitors. To save her, Lucia's parents send both her and her brother to the United States.

Lucia and Frankie go to live with a foster family in Nebraska until her parents can join them or the revolution ends. Lucia must learn a new language, eat new foods, and make new friends. She adjusts rather well, but all the time she worries about her mother and father back in Cuba and wonders if she will ever see them again because the revolution doesn't seem to be ending and American/Cuban relations are getting very tense...

The first half of the book takes place in Cuba and offers an amazing look into life in Cuba during Castro's early days and the fear or fanaticism some people felt. The second half of the book is about Lucia adjusting to American life and presents an idea of what it was like to be a Latina immigrant in 1961.

Superb. The ending brought tears to my eyes. I really connected to Lucia. This is a book I will read again.
Profile Image for Bookteafull (Danny).
345 reviews101 followers
December 9, 2019
Actual Rating: 4.5 Stars

As a Cuban whose family had to escape Castro's Cuba, I fully expected to be emotionally impacted by this book. I'm not gunna front, I got teary-eyed toward the 75% mark and wasn't expecting this tale to end somewhat wholeheartedly? Which is why I deducted half a point - I know it sounds bitter, but knowing what I know about Cuba as a Cuban, the book ended somewhat unrealistically for me.

Anywho, this novel is an excellent example of a well-crafted coming of age and immigration story. It's based on the true events following the Pedro Pan operation from 1960-1962 wherein the US assisted in the transportation of thousands of unaccompanied children in escaping revolutionary Cuba.

Each chapter begins with a newspaper headline depicting the events that occurred during that time. I thought this was an incredibly clever decision on behalf of the author because it served almost as a jarring reminder of the horrific deeds Castro's regime was imposing in Cuba. This wonderfully contrasted with the somewhat innocent POV obtained by the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Lucia, obtained at the beginning of the narrative; as she was somewhat blind to the changes at first as most children initially are.

Lucia is your average Cuban adolescent, preoccupied with friends, her quinces, and crush. So when Castro begins his communist revolutionary reign of totalitarian control, at first she's pleased because he's the reason schools and churches have been closed down -- and what teenager wouldn't be pleased with having more free time? Eventually Lucia realizes that things aren't quite as they seem and that Cuba is undergoing a terrifying change. You're either with Castro or you're against him, and Lucia soon finds out that being against him immediately starts your timer toward death.

One of the most impacting aspects of this book was the exploration of Karl Marx's statement that when you break down the family, all that is left is the revolution. As the reader you get to see how Castro implements this method to brainwash individuals (especially minors) into not only joining the revolution, but snitching on family member's they feel may be traitors to the new communist government. Families turn against one another in a heart beat, and the government is not afraid to threaten children to obtain results.

Lucia's parents, fearing for her and her younger brother's lives and ability to be free-thinking individuals, make the heartbreaking decision to send them to the US via Pedro Pan. Which, according to google was "the largest mass exodus of minor refugees in the Western Hemisphere at the time" with "over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors to the United States between 1960 and 1962."

Gonzalez did a superb job highlighting the struggles Lucia and her brother faced leading up to their journey into the US and eventually into their foster families whilst maintaining historical and cultural authenticity.

I know some readers have complained about Lucia's focus on "superficial" topics such as friends, crushes, and fashion but, and I repeat, she's a fourteen-year-old-girl. Girls at the age are generally known to focus on those things??? As well as some boys tbh. Especially as a means to self-distract themselves with whats occurring around them so I didn't have a problem with that at all.

I highly recommend that readers pick this novel up if they get the chance - especially those of Cuban descent.
Profile Image for Andrea.
973 reviews11 followers
June 3, 2017
There was an immediate disconnect and I couldn't warm up to Lucia or her life and world. She was so distant. I couldn't put my finger on it but for some reason I couldn't get it into it. It was like the writing was hands-off; even though it was first-person it felt like third person for all that I felt like I knew her.

It wasn't the best introduction to Lucia that she couldn't concentrate on anything the teacher said in class because of a cute boy. I also didn't like the scene the next day after she's seen the army trucks, where she wakes up contemplating the yellow headband that goes good with her dark hair or the green and white that matched perfectly with her starched outfit.

When she got mad at her mom for not letting her hang out with her friend because things were dangerous, I was so irritated. I know she's only 14 but that didn't lessen my irritation. There are army trucks and communists and school's been closed and everything else, so for her not to see the danger in that and get all upset annoyed me.

It was interesting that there were rebel meetings and people wore brigadista uniforms. Her friend Ivette told her the boy she liked from school was there and he was going to teach peasants, because the government called on students over 13 to go to the countryside and teach the peasants for 3 months. The book should've started out with this and it would've captured my interest.

When Lucia got mad at her mom for taking the red umbrella out to get groceries with I almost lost it. Red brought them attention and she wondered why her mom insisted on embarrassing her with it. A terrible time to be in the POV of such a bratty little teenager.

I was so irritated that Lucia refused to see reason about Castro. No matter what she heard her dad and mom talking about, no matter what he said, she took the government's side and didn't see what the big deal was. Seeing her dad's boss tied up and hearing him be shot, her dad saying he was given the job and told to spy on people, saying their money and valuables would be taken. None of that clued this idiot in to the fact that the government was bad. No, she thought her parents were paranoid and that Cuba would do so good under Castro's communism. I think your parents know a little something more about how politics work than a 14 year old spoiled brat. Fool.

The way she treated her mom, saying "Okay, sure" when her mom said there would be extra money after she bought the medicine and that Lucia would buy some face powder or nail polish, she deserved to be smacked. She was only nice to her mom when she was told she could go to the dance. And the way she went on and on about that truly perfect shade of nail polish annoyed the crap out of me. I want a character that doesn't obsess over clothes and looks. Materialistic ppl make me sick. And I don't think the bottle of nail polish would break just from falling on the ground. That's hard glass and doesn't break very easily.

At least she finally saw the danger of going out when she saw the doctor's body hanging from a tree. She sobbed into her mother's chest like a baby and said she was never leaving the house again. Serves her right for being such an idiot.

On cloud 9. Seventeen Magazines. Miss High Fashion.

I hate when characters make such stupid mistakes that are going to come back and cause trouble. She knew Ivette's family was with the revolutionary, they're not on their side and have been brainwashed by the government along with everyone else. So, her parents said they would have to make an effort to go with the flow and not cause suspicion or get in trouble. That's why her mom invited Ivette and her mom over. So what does Lucia of the one brain cell do? She tells Ivette that her dad hid her mom's jewelry in the floor. What a colossal idiot! When will she ever learn? And you can see what Ivette thinks of it when she says isn't that what the government told them not to do? They're supposed to have everything in the open so the government can determine if there's a better use for their things. Way to go, Lucia. Ivette isn't on your side and she's going to rat you out. I hate stupid characters.

When she referenced Sandra Dee's dresses I was like are you kidding me? Grease came out in 1978 and this was in the early 1960s. Wtf is this author thinking?

The lie she pulled to her mom made me so fed-up with her. I wanted nothing more to do with her as the main character. She overheard her dad and his brother arguing and knew it was a big deal, but the night of the dance her dad was running late and her mom couldn't leave Frankie home alone, so when her uncle pulled in the driveway she lied and said her mom would be okay with him chaperoning her at the dance. She then lied to her mom and said her uncle was there to apologize to her dad. Where does she get off meddling with adults like that?

It got steadily worse. She asked what he was fighting about with her dad and he said her dad needed to learn some hard lessons. She doesn't even comment, react or act like she even heard it. Who could hear someone say their dad needed to learn a hard lesson and not get upset? Then she asked him what patria postestad meant, a phrase she heard her parents talking about. Why does she keep telling on her parents to revolutionaries?!? This girl doesn't have two brain cells to work with.

Lucia finally got to dance with her crush Manuel. At least she could shut up about it and we could get on with business. I found myself staying removed from him because I already knew, thanks to the plot spoiler summary, that her parents were going to send her and her brother to the U.S. so nothing would come of it. That ruined the time spent in Cuba because I was just waiting for it to come to an end. After they danced and went to get drinks, he dropped her hand to get them and she said she had never hated cups so much in her life. What a ridiculously stupid and immature thing to say. That was so stupid.
In typical book fashion it turns out Manuel isn't a nice guy. Not only is he a steadfast revolutionary and thinks people should die that don't support it, he tries to force himself on her. I was so irritated at that. Of course he has to do that. It's too much trouble to make him be nice, much easier to ruin his character completely and get him out of the way. So overdone.

The really annoying part was Lucia's reaction after. She thinks she acted like a little girl in front of him and is humiliated, all because she couldn't handle a boy kissing her. So now she's reached a new low of idiocy. She doesn't know the different between a kiss and sexual assault.

Pg 139 Telling them it'd been a mistake to send us here.
It'd is it and would combined, not it had. If would been a mistake. Come on.

Obviously there was something wrong on the author's part that I couldn't grasp the gravity of the reality of communism and kids having to leave their parents. It was so unemotional. The author can't convey emotion. She's writing that Lucia's thinking about her parents but I don't feel it and I don't buy it.
At the facility I found it highly convenient that Frankie just guessed which bunk Lucia slept in. He found her suitcase at the bunk bed and just guessed that she was on the top, avoiding a scene where he could've really scared the girl on the bottom. The boy should play the lotto with luck like that. And I thought it was weird how Angela, the girl on the bottom, gave her a cookie and milk and Lucia tossed hem up on the bed, before Frankie ever ate the cookie. That was a weird thing to do to throw a cookie up on your bed. Convenient setup for Frankie eating it.

And so convenient that the director of the boy's facility knows their dad. He recognized the town she was in, a big stretch if you ask me, then put together their last name to produce a connection to the man who is the sole reason he took this job. Their dad helped Mr. Ramirez out when he didn't have money and got medicine for his kid. Some story.

The author kept referencing things from American culture that I just don't think Lucia had access to. She referenced Grease which didn't come out until over a decade after this, then she referenced Seventeen magazine and I wondered how American magazines made their way to Cuba. When she said she had seen movies about Al Capone I was like what movie hasn't this girl seen that relates to what she's going through? So convenient. And there again, I wondered if she would've had access to an American movie, how long it takes a movie to make it to other countries and whatnot.

"I heard blah, blah, blabbity, blah, Cuba, then some more blabbity, blah.
How immature.

I thought they had been speaking English the entire time, because only a word or two here and there would be in Spanish, and everything else would be in English. Then suddenly when they met their foster parents Lucia said "I sorry. I no understand." And I thought she was doing it as a joke to get the woman to slow down as she talked so they could understand the English. But then she kept it up. "We happy to be here." And I was like why is she talking like that? It didn't work. I know the book had to be in English so English-speaking readers could read it but since it was, that meant I thought the characters were speaking English the whole time. Poor writing that it wasn't made clear to readers that they were speaking in Spanish. And a terrible decision to have a few words Spanish to make me think they were only saying those words in Spanish, when everything else was written in English even thought it too was Spanish.

It was funny how Mrs. Baxter asked Lucia about where she was for and she said Puerto Mijares was on a bitch and Mrs. Baxter said never say that and told her how to pronounce beach. The book could have used some humor.

Mrs. Baxter gave her Tabasco sauce to put on her eggs and it was so hot she had to drink half of her juice. She thought they ate spicy food because they do in Mexico and Lucia had to tell her in Mexico yes, Cuba no. Another humorous situation. And when she said there will be snow in the winter Frankie ran to the window expecting there to be snow out, bcuz he can't understand English well.

At least Lucia finally saw the light once she was of of Cuba and had a mature thought. She read the newspapers about the bad things happening in Cuba, and knew that when Fidel Castro had said he was going to help out the poor and losing some freedoms to do that didn't seem like too high of a price. She saw in newspapers that people outright criticized President Kennedy and she knew if anyone did that to Castro that they would be branded a traitor.

When anyone was jailed or threatened or forced to leave their homes she thought they did something to deserve it or didn't love Cuba enough, which I guess showed how powerful Castro's brainwashing was.

Lucia was out carrying the bag of chicken feed to the barn and Frankie wanted her to jump puddles with him, so when he took the bag from her it fell and dumped out and Lucia started a mud fight with him. Mrs. Baxter caught them and I thought she'd be so mad but she only sprayed them with the hose when they got close and they had a little water fight. A nice moment if unexpected. Her history showed that she would get mad bcuz they didn't have money to waste with her husband being laid off and having to work at the store.

It was also unexpected that when a lady at church said she should get one, as in a child from Cuba, Mrs. Baxter said they're not pets, because she struck me as having ulterior motives. Like having them work on the farm or something, and her husband had nothing to do with them and never spoke to them. And she wanted them to learn English and to me spoke to them in a condescending way.

At church when Frankie came back with 3 donuts after eating some himself Lucy was upset thinking what would people say. But he comes up and says "for you and you," giving them to her and Mrs. Baxter and the woman at church says "so cute." That was so out of character it wasn't even funny. Trying way too hard. And if that wasn't enough he went up to Mr. Baxter as he talked to a group of men, tapped him on the arm and gave him the donut. They all stopped talking and Mr. Baxter smiled and patted him on the back Make me gag.

I hated that the first introduction to the boy was him mistaking her for another girl and tickling her under her ribs. Whoa. Sucks that he touches another girl like that. And he didn't even apologize to her. All he said was he thought she was someone else and then said sorry to the other girl! What a jerk.

It was such a copout and bad writing that time was skipped over. She would write she liked going to church and in to town grocery shopping but we didn't get to experience that. And that she had made two other friends at school, but we didn't get to see that either. Or that Mr. Baxter would drop her off at Jennifer's house on Saturdays. I just didn't like the things that were left out. And I was so irritated that all the guys at school liked her. A football player in 11th grade that the mean girl Betty likes. Thought she liked the guy from the bus, but I guess she's like most popular girls in high school and had to have them all. And Eddie, a guy in one of her classes. Like come on. I'm so sick of the heroine having all the guys fall over her.

When Ivette wrote back to her saying that America was such a dangerous place and the people were so bad, it was upsetting to know someone painted a free country in such a bad lift. And she alluded to the fact that she had been raped but the word itself wasn't used. And she just considered herself unlucky, held no ill will to the soldiers or the revolution. A brainwashed idiot for sure.

It was sweet of the Baxters to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve like they do, and she made food they have. It was cute how she told them the gifts were from Santa and that theirs were more practical because they couldn't be extravagant like Santa.

It was a nice touch how they were in the library choosing a bird for the school project and started laughing about Betty being crapped on by a bird once and they had to cover their faces with their books. They were laughing so hard all people would see was their books bouncing up and down. Jennifer told her to close the book and open it to a random page and that would be her bird, and it happened to be one she saw in Cuba and it migrates to the U.S.

She went on to skip time, focus on some things but then skip over others I would have liked to read, such as the basketball game they were going to. I expected so much more out of the school dance. She thought it was clever of Eddie to ask to dance with Jennifer first and then say to Nathan, who was dancing with Lucia, that they would switch after. I didn't. I thought he should've just asked her in the first place. I was hoping for a kiss or something, but she wanted to keep it friendly which disappointed me. She asked why he didn't call her a nickname and he said she's different, it's hard to think of one word to describe her and she slugs him in the arm bcuz things got uncomfortable. She was so worried about what happened with Manuel happening again. Please. She ruined the dance bcuz of her fear.
The good thing is that there's a happy ending. Her mom applied for an exit visa and was granted leave, but her dad was denied so he bribed an official and was able to travel too. Mrs. Baxter's friend set them up in the carriage house on her property.

Something about it was just off. There wasn't any emotion, only about 4 humorous or cute things. The writing was too simple and therefore didn't convey the gravity of the situation. I didn't believe the feelings Lucia had about anything. When she said she wondered if her parents would be killed, not in those words, but like silenced in a more fatal way or something, I didn't believe she even cared, because she didn't say she was scared, or cried for them, or wanted them to leave Cuba, or anything. Hello, you just said your parents might be killed, can we get some thoughts on that? The only thing I can say is that I now know about communism in Cuba and kids being sent to the U.S. without their parents. But it wasn't really worth reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Brittany Cuenin.
Author 1 book38 followers
January 5, 2013
The Cuban history of the past 40 years tends to be glossed over and not taught about in schools. Gonzalaz does a really great job of creating a young adult novel which answers those historical questions while creating an interesting plot. The characters are very relatable and the reader gets caught up in the tragedy of the two children, Lucia and her brother, being transported to America - not sure if they will ever see their home or parents again. Gonzalez does a nice job of giving the readers a look into Cuba: What Cubans love about their country and how many were forced to leave their home under the regime of Castro. It is an important history lesson and Gonzalez weaves is so that the reader is immersed in Lucia’s world.
My favorite genre of literature is children’s, and, as I began this course, I finished a “young adult” novel by Christina Gonzalez: The Red Umbrella. The book outlines the historic migration of children from Cuba to the United States in the 1960s. As Castro began to take over Cuba, many parents worked with and through the Catholic church to send over their children to the United States (mostly Miami) in an operation called Pedro Pan. I loved how the book opened up this part of history that was unknown to me (and many of my students). The main character is Lucy, who is 14, and it follows her fictional path through Castro’s takeover and her parents’ decision for her future. Each chapter is framed with a real New York Times headline during the period.

The book is one of my favorites, and I thought it might work well in an ESL reading course. My students, many of whom had only recently immigrated from Latin American countries, were fascinated with how Gonzalez was able to capture the emotion of leaving one’s home country and family behind for new and better opportunities. The book is for a younger crowd, so it isn’t gory; however, it certainly doesn’t shy away from describing how frightening and brutal Castro and Che Guevara were. My adult students, overwhelmingly, loved the book.
A lovely, shy girl in my class spoke up as we had our final discussion. She hated public speaking, but I was excited to have to add her opinion. Originally from Venezuela, she had immigrated to the US based on several events in her high school years, including the rule of Chavez. Her mother made plans for her after she almost witnessed a brutal massacre (one, she told us, she later saw on tv.) She left behind everyone in her family to escape the same fear described in the book; this girl’s story in her broken English sent chills up my spine. Even though she talked about being grateful for education and opportunities, she hadn't seen her family in a year, and their future was unknown. It was a sobering moment for the rest of us in the class - in 2012, not 1963.
The Red Umbrella would be great for parents or teachers who want to introduce this part of history to intermediate (middle/high school) readers. It opens up to discussing history, communism, socialism.
Profile Image for Kristi.
1,188 reviews2,890 followers
November 14, 2010
The Red Umbrella is a fantastically written debut that had me on the verge of tears on several occasions.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive to read this novel at first... I do enjoy reading historical fiction, but I knew this story would waken emotions that I'd have to deal with long after the book was over. To know that people struggled in the manner that Lucia and her family did, and I'm sure there were families who struggled much more, is utterly heartbreaking.

The first part of the novel takes place in Cuba. It's soon after Castro has taken over and you see the subtle changes that the country begins to undergo. Watching it change through the eyes of Lucia was even more powerful. She's so wrapped up in her life that she fails to see those changes happening around her, until she has a rather rude awakening. Not to mention losing her closets friends and even family because of the revolution. I can't imagine what the real families living during the revolution went through during these times. It made me extremely thankful and humble to live in the country that I do.

The second part of the novel takes part in Nebraska. This part of the novel fell a little bit flat for me. It just seemed that Lucia's adaption into the American lifestyle from her Cuban one was a bit understated. It happened so fast and so smoothly. I guess I was expecting more of a struggle. Not that I wanted to see Lucia and Frankie struggle anymore after every thing they had been through, but it just didn't seem very realistic.

Overall the novel was very engaging, I sat down to read a few chapters and ended up finishing the novel in a matter of hours. Although the subject matter of The Red Umbrella isn't the happiest.... I'd say this is a novel about hope, love and courage. I'm looking forward to more novels from Christina!
Profile Image for Valerie.
249 reviews74 followers
September 5, 2015
Good old historical fiction never fails. Lucia is our girl of interest. Time period is the 1960s however this isn't about the civil rights movement it's about Operation Pedro Pan because of the Communist Movement going on in Cuba.

Lucia seems to be average but spoiled in the beginning of the book. This annoyed me. I guess it's realistic since she is fourteen and basically has had (up until now) a fairly carefree life but it was still off putting. Once problems start arising and Lucia starts to realize the seriousness of the 'Revolution' Lucia takes things as best as can be handled. She matures exceedingly throughout the book.

I liked that the story was serious and gave a fairly good overview of what was happening without it being too dark for younger readers. Lucia's voice rang true the more I read. Almost half the book goes by before Lucia and her brother reach Nebraska so a good amount of the book is dedicated to Cuba. Once Lucia reaches Nebraska the culture shock kicks in. The different food, the different language, and the homesickness all seemed realistic.

The book is written in English of course but there were times that a Spanish word was said. Other books I've read do this but not as often. This was fine with me because I can understand Spanish fairly well, but I can't help but think that I would've been annoyed if I didn't. There is a glossary in the back but I didn't realize this until half-way through the book. Maybe it was to remind the reader that they were talking in Spanish but I can't be sure.

But anyways, it was a good story, good writing, and I gained some knowledge about something I only heard about in passing during history.
Profile Image for Ofilia.
435 reviews27 followers
June 13, 2010
This historical fiction about Castro's take over of Cuba and the subsequent exodus of Cuban children to the U.S. is not well represented in kid lit. Lucia is very well drawn and goes through several universal experiences (first dance, bratty brother, confusion of growing up). The other characters can be a bit one dimensional, but they are all likeable. There were lots of touching moments like the incident with the red umbrella. While the writing is interesting, it is clearly a first novel with a lot of “telling” instead of “showing.” However, it did pique my interest in Cuban history, so I think it is certainly worthy.
Profile Image for Raluca Elena.
135 reviews6 followers
October 1, 2022
"-Dar roșul este culoarea revoluției, am insistat, sperând că asta o s-o facă să se răzgândească. Mama s-a oprit din mers ca să ma privească în ochi.
- Nu, Lucia. Se poate ca revoluția să fi confiscat o grămadă de lucruri, dar nu poate să pună stăpânire pe-o culoare. Pentru mine, roșul reprezintă puterea, și asta-i tot ce-o să reprezinte vreodată."
"Umbrela rosie" este o poveste inspirată din realitatea anilor 1960 in Cuba . În 1961 , la 2 ani de la revoluția lui Castro, Lucia Alvarez așteaptă cu nerăbdare să împlinească vârsta de 15 ani, își pune la cale ținuta perfectă și visează să danseze cu băiatul pe care îl place însă lumea în care se pregătește sa intre nu mai este la fel ca cea în care a crescut, totul este în schimbare. Noul regim instaurat de Fidel Castro îi transformă pe oameni, vecinii încep să se spioneze între ei, cunoscuții dispar fără urmă iar colegii Luciei , animați de sloganuri comuniste se înrolează în brigăzi de tineret. "- Revoluția a schimbat oamenii. Nu doar de soldați trebuie sa temem , a răspuns Papá."
Soții Alvarez nu doresc să se implice în mișcarea comunistă și cu teama de a nu-și pierde copiii hotărăsc să îi trimită, pe Lucia și pe Frankie, fratele ei de doar 7 ani , în America . Astfel cei 2 își lasă in urma familia, prietenii, țara și traiul obișnuit.
În acea perioadă 14.000 de copii au plecat neînsoțiți din Cuba în SUA, acest exod nemaipomenit fiind cunoscut sub denumirea de Operațiunea Peter Pan.
Mi-a plăcut foarte mult.
Profile Image for Steph Su.
943 reviews452 followers
December 16, 2009
I have never read a novel like Christina Gonzalez’s debut, THE RED UMBRELLA. This is a necessary story about an aspect of Cuban American history that has not received enough attention in YA literature—and best of all, it’s extremely well written and engaging!

Gonzalez writes convincingly of all her characters. Lucia is partly your average teenager, desiring friendship, love, acceptance, and pretty things. Her parents are a believable blend of loving, strict, and worried, and Frankie is a cute and appropriately occasionally annoying younger brother. The way the story follows Lucia through this difficult time in her life, however, is a miraculous achievement: my heart ached as I read about the difficulties she faced, and I saw a distinct, yet subtle, growth in her as she realizes the extent to which Castro’s takeover would affect her life.

The pacing and plot were a little uneven, though, and thus not as fulfilling as it could’ve been. The first two-thirds of the book takes place within a few fast and furious months in Cuba, as the revolution starts taking over Cubans’ lives. This part of the book is great, as we see Lucia and her family struggling to remain true to themselves in the face of so much propaganda and pressure. However, when Lucia and Frankie spend time with the elderly white couple in Nebraska while they await news of their parents, time sees to stop and go in choppy bits, covering more than half a year in just a few dozen pages. As a result, I felt that Lucia’s adjustment to American life and subsequent maturation were rushed, and that the characters in this section of the book were underdeveloped.

Pacing aside, this was a fantastic read, great for everyone. The Alvarezes are a family to cheer for throughout the whole story. Never before have I seen this aspect of Cuban American history discussed in such an approachable and sympathetic manner. I am thankful for this book, hope others will strongly consider reading it when it comes out, and definitely look forward to anything Christina has next for us!
66 reviews2 followers
November 15, 2018
I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I liked it because it showed me some of the sad but inspiring history of Cuba. The most interesting part for me about this book was how most of cuban familys had to battle there way through the revolution.

This book relates to my heroe’s journey because my parents think it would be great if I learned some history. I think that this book changed my as a reader because before this book I didn’t pause and research words that I didn’t understand but now I do and I think that’s what has helped me to enjoy the book better. I would reccomend this book to Katia because she says she would like to go to Cuba and I think it would be good for her to know about its history.

Profile Image for Raul.
408 reviews14 followers
June 24, 2016
One of the most amazing and beautiful stories I've ever read! This is an instance where I wish a book was longer so that can experience it more. Heartbreaking and beautifully told, combines family, loss and hope into an amazing story that is sure to make anyone shed a tear. I know I shed many throughout my read. Ultimately giving us a story of what parents would do in a desperate act of love for their children. Simply amazing!!!
Profile Image for Alicia.
347 reviews
July 25, 2010
I bought this book for my 10 yr old granddaughter. I always read any book I buy for the Grands before I give it to them. I bought this one because I though it would make her understand what it was like to leave Cuba at 13 without my parents...it was wonderfully written & very factual. Many tears later, I decided to save it until she is 13.
Profile Image for Becca Hoetger.
326 reviews17 followers
April 17, 2018
What a cute story! It reminded me of The War That Saved My Life. It was interesting to read about Cuba and Fidel Castro’s “Revolution.” I would definitely recommend this book, and especially the audiobook.
Profile Image for Liz.
124 reviews20 followers
March 17, 2011
Interesting time period, a bit pro-capitalist in a few early chapters. Would let kids read with some added historical context.
Profile Image for Joy Kirr.
1,002 reviews128 followers
April 3, 2022
There aren't many books for young adults about the early 60s in Cuba. This one covered some of the problems happening for families at the surface level, and I'd hope they'd inspire kids to read more about it. I did shed a couple of tears, and the author had me feel for Lucia and Frankie. Note: Look up Operation Pedro Pan for more information.
Profile Image for Rachel Eltatawy.
87 reviews
February 6, 2022
A beautiful fictional tale of the Cuban revolution. This quick read taught me a great deal regarding the difficult and heart wrenching choices families had to make during the Cuban revolution.
Profile Image for Celia.
326 reviews55 followers
July 22, 2022
This gem of a middle grade/young adult historical novel gave me my first glimpse of pre-Castro Cuba from a young teenager's eyes. Gonzalez compares and contrasts cultures and political ideologies while keeping the story moving with an engaging character and historically enlightening plot. I highly recommend this book for young teens for its great story and valuable lessons in freedom and awareness, thoughtfulness, and empathy toward others.
Profile Image for Cathy.
720 reviews6 followers
February 18, 2019
Another audiobook from Audiobook Sync. Takes place in the early 60's when Castro was taking over Cuba. About a family and how they get away from Cuba to live in the US.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,121 reviews
April 26, 2016
Why hasn’t this topic been covered more for the older kid/teen crowd? I absolutely adored this debut and immediately went searching for books involving Castro’s Cuba and Operation Pedro Pan, but I have found…sigh…two others. Yep. (Leaving Glorytown and Jumping off to Freedom, the former looking far more compelling; also, Countdown deals with the American side of the Cuban Missile Crisis.) This era is so highly charged politically and emotionally, it truly baffles me that it has been largely left untouched, especially now that enough time has passed. Anyhow.

What’s so great about The Red Umbrella? We get to see the intensity surrounding the rapid change Cuba went through in the communist takeover. Every chapter begins with a headline from a U.S. newspaper (which includes the date), and so we see how, on a daily basis, Lucia’s world spirals out of control starting from the time her school is temporarily closed to accommodate the new regime. The book spans almost a year, yet half of the book is devoted to just over a month’s worth of activity. The American headlines continue as chapter headings when Lucia and Frankie flee to the United States, which made me pause to think for a minute: Maybe it would be more effective if Gonzalez used Cuban headlines for this switch? Or maybe the focus should be exclusively on headlines of the U.S.’s efforts in dealing with Cuba? However, I soon realized the continuation to report the events in Cuba (albeit sometimes vague) served as both a reflection of Lucia’s efforts and interest in scouring the newspaper both to acquire language and news of her country as well as a way to demonstrate the drastic difference between Cuba and the U.S—what Lucia had managed to escape.

Lucia serves as a strong main character—we see her develop from her naïveté in coping with the devastating changes imposed by the new regime upon her country, friends, and family. Even though the years are 1961-62 and include enough popular culture and technological references/items in line with the era, Lucia’s experiences as a 14- and 15-year-old girl are absolutely sympathetic. She deals with losing friends and making them; standing up to aggressive boys as well as sweet ones; coping with the expectations of her parents for being a teenage girl; and making up her own mind on important political and social issues. On top of everything, Lucia, of course, must learn how to use the English language, and Gonzalez incorporates a fairly substantial amount of Spanish vocabulary (accompanied by a glossary) in the dialogue.

Once Lucia and Frankie were placed with the Baxters in Nebraska, I thought perhaps the story might slow down since they were so far removed geographically from the conflict; however, it only becomes more heart wrenching. I was incredibly moved by how Gonzalez handled the communication between Lucia and her parents and Ivette. I found myself holding my breath waiting for the phone line to connect. I was equally distressed by the gradual dissolution of Lucia’s friendship with Ivette due to Ivette’s allegiance to Castro (and thus, rejection of Lucia “choosing” to live in capitalist America) as written in her letters.

Lucia’s journey as a refugee is unique and compelling, and thankfully sheds light on a crucial point in American and world history barely covered by other juvenile memoir and historical fiction. My library has cataloged The Red Umbrella as YA, but I think it could be used with mature children as early as the upper grades of elementary school.
Profile Image for Cindy Hudson.
Author 14 books23 followers
October 5, 2010
During the midst of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960s, thousands of children were sent alone to live with relatives or be taken in by aid agencies in the U. S. The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, tells the fictional story of two of these children.

When the revolution first began, life didn’t change much in the Alvarez household. Lucia still read fashion magazines with her best friend Ivette, and Lucia’s little brother Frankie liked riding his bike and spying on soldiers. But eventually they began to notice more tension in their home as their father came under increasing pressure at work. Their parents’ friends began disappearing, and kids their age began joining a revolutionary youth corps before their parents decided that Lucia and Frankie would leave their home to live with a foster family in the U.S.

Gonzalez’s vivid prose brings Cuba of the 1960s to life with all its vibrant colors, spicy food, and tropical climate all in a backdrop of revolutionary tensions. No one knows who to trust anymore; even family members and best friends turn against each other. Each chapter starts with a headline about Cuba pulled from newspapers across the U.S. It’s a great way to compare how the revolution was viewed in this country as compared to how it was being experienced by Cubans.

Through Lucia’s eyes you fall in love with the Cuba she longs to have back again and worry for the family and friends she leaves behind. As Lucia and Frankie struggle to adjust in a country where they barely speak the language and a state where it snows in winter, they also learn the outside world’s perspective of their homeland.

Gonzalez based her story on the experiences of her parents and thousands of other children who came to the U.S. in a program known as Operation Pedro Pan. The tale she weaves in The Red Umbrella is more than great historical fiction about an event that still affects the lives of Cubans and Cuban exiles, it is also a tribute to the courage the children of exile showed in the face of immense uncertainty and upheaval. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 14.
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,636 reviews122 followers
February 14, 2012
Lucia’s world is crumbling. Her school has been shut down. Her neighbors are being thrown into prison or killed for disagreeing with the Cuban revolutionists. Her best friend has joined the brigades and is leaving for military training.

Lucia’s family faces danger when her father becomes labeled a dissident. Lucia and her brother flee to the U.S. with other children to live in a foster home while her parents wait to get exit VISAs.

The pacing is fast and the characters well-developed in this book. The author does a nice job but it isn’t loaded with historical facts. The story revolves mainly around characters and friendships. I thought the author could have captured more of the fear and overwhelming feelings of what it is like traveling to another country and living with different people. I kept thinking of how hard it is being illiterate in a different country: not being able to read signs, getting yelled at when you can’t figure out the change in the grocery store, being passed over in line because of looking different, to helplessly stare at a form because you can’t read the language to know how to fill it out. I think the author could have captured the tension and fear better in the part when Lucia and her brother, Frankie, entered the U.S. It is the little things that can be overwhelming; plus, Lucia had to look out for Frankie. The author does do a nice job with showing misunderstandings when learning a language and how funny slang can be.

While the language is easy-to-read and at a grade 4 or 5 level, this book has some adult themes in it which is why I put it under Young Adult. There is some violence such as when the prisoners are executed, but Lucia and Frankie don’t actually see it, they just hear the gun shots. Lucia also sees a neighbor hanging from a tree in the park. He was murdered for organizing a protest against the revolutionaries. Lucia gets a letter from her best friend who gets raped at camp although the word “rape” is never used and some might just think she was attacked by a man. Lucia also has an unpleasant encounter with a boy at a dance that she likes but who is overly affectionate toward her.
Profile Image for Vanesa.
361 reviews10 followers
September 15, 2010
This book is magnificent! As an immigrant myself I can relate in so many levels to this book…sadly the political situation since my home country Venezuela is under the regimen of someone who admires and friendship with Castro. We have “missions” working for “the people” we have the faces of Che and Castro painted throughout low income neighborhoods…sadly we have a lot of similar things.

Now on a brighter subject Lucia and Frankie’s struggle with English reminds me so much of my own everyday struggle! I don’t want to give away too much but it definitely had me laughing out loud!

I really enjoyed “The Red Umbrella” and I hope everyone pick up a copy and learn there is much more in a culture than Salsa and Spanish….there are people fighting, people struggling, people trying to make a difference, trying to be accepted and trying to have a better future.
Profile Image for Angela.
1,175 reviews22 followers
March 24, 2010
The Red Umbrella is an excellent story about the Cuban-American experience of a young teen and her family in the period just after the Cuban communist revolution. It's value is historical, it's appeal is universal, and the story a remarkable one.

Gonzalez uses the striking image of her mother's red umbrella to express a range of emotions that add to the descriptive elements of people and places. Her careful use of the this image will be accessible to and appreciated by readers young and old.

This story is dramatic and it's characters are memorable. Reading the struggles of Lucia and her family is as vivid as if Gonzalez has drawn this experience rather than written it.

Gonzalez has created an important novel that is perfect for tweens and mother-daughter book clubs, and sure to be loved by educators and librarians.

Profile Image for Willa.
38 reviews
July 13, 2015
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, focuses in Cuba, in 1961, two years after the Communist revolution. The book is also in the perspective of Lucia Alvarez, a 14 year old, who lives in a family that does not think that this Communist Revolution will be good for their country. And after a couple incidents, Lucia's parents make the heart breaking decision to send Lucia and her brother Frankie to the US. Alone.

I found this book exceptional. The writing was amazing and I could find no flaws in it. But, one problem I did have, is that the ending left me with lots of questions. Some including:
How did Lucia's father manage to get to the US without an approved Visa?
Do they stay to live in Nebraska, or go to live somewhere else?
What happens to Ivette?
And trust me those are only some of my questions.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sejal Naik.
38 reviews
August 31, 2016
This book is absolutely wonderful. Like many, I didn't know much about the impact of Castro's rise to power in Cuba in the early 1960s, or that so many Cuban children were sent from Cuba to the US, unaccompanied by adults, and without knowing whether or not they would be reunited with their families.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez did an exceptional job of educating readers while keeping them hooked on an easy to follow story line. Lucia's courage and resilience was so inspiring, and I appreciated Gonzalez's emphasis on the importance (and power) of family, and love during what must have been an incredibly stressful and terrifying time for so many young children. The characters were vivid and well-developed.

I'm usually not a fan of books that are somewhat predictable, but I had no qualms about the way this book ended. I'll be recommending this book to all as a total "must read."
Profile Image for Mary Havens.
1,334 reviews23 followers
July 19, 2021
I didn't know anything about the Cuban Revolution or Operation Pedro Pan before listening to this book and to have the story told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl was very interesting. I know the U.S. is criticized for it's lack of global knowledge but I feel we've definitely made strides since the 1960s.
Gonzalez does a great job of capturing the confusion of that time for the U.S. and Cuba with newspaper headlines and reports from Lucia's friend Yvette who remains in Cuba. The book did a good job of representing how individuals might feel on both side of the fence: betrayed for having to go to the U.S. or stick it out in Cuba, homesickness on both sides, cultural confusion and even racism, etc. I felt like Gonzalez captured a unique snapshot of this time.
Definitely recommended!!
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