The Bluest Sky
Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Page count: 320 pages
Publishing Date: September 6, 2022
A boy and his family must decide whether to remain in Cuba under a repressive government or risk everything for the chance of a new beginning in this gripping story from the award-winning author of The Red Umbrella.
There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba—especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.
But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country—if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.
So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?
In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?
Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.
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Atmospheric and tense, the story held my attention from start to finish.
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, Moving Target, 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.
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