Eleven and a half years ago, I read a book that would (unbeknownst to me) awaken in me a craving for contemporary fiction. I had been raised on a steady diet of 18th and 19th century classic novels and had no idea that any other kind of novel existed, beyond the John Grisham-esque paperbacks that my high school friends liked to read. But when I took Much Ado About English, my introduction-to-the-major course at my beloved liberal arts college, I found a new love, though it would take years to recognize it. That love came in the form of a book, Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
That following summer, after an invasive maxillofacial surgery, I went to my library and promptly devoured ¡Yo! (A Garcia Girls sequel of sorts) and In the Time of the Butterflies (based on a true story about the women who died defying Trujillo, the feared dictator of the Dominican Republic in the 1960s). Later, I saw Before We Were Free, a young adult novel, and purchased it on impulse. In going through my bookshelf this summer, I decided it was high time to give the book a read.
If you’ve read Garcia Girls, this is the same story, but from the Dominican side. Anita is the girls’ cousin and wondering why, in 1960, most of her family has either gone into hiding or fled to the United States. Amid her growing confusion about her family dissolution is the sense of adolescence that has begun to pervade her identity. She can no longer recognize the childlike world she once knew. And she longs to be free, somehow.
This is a solid 3 star book for me. I bet I would have liked it more if I hadn’t already read Garcia Girls first. But since I did, and since I am a college educator, I will stick with Garcia Girls. If, however, you have a young adult in your life, I would recommend putting this book into their hands. It’s an enjoyable, touching, and suspenseful read.