Building a Life Across Two Cultures

2 new YA titles that will release in June explore the challenges of building a new life in America after fleeing the turmoil in the country of one’s childhood.   Inspired by true refugee experiences, these two novels are interesting and thought-provoking explorations of challenge, change, and resilience.

redumbrellaThe Red Umbrella by debut novelist Christina Diaz Gonzalez is set in 1961, when Lucia’s carefree life in a small Cuban coast town is about to change. She’s 14 and dreams of her school-crush, her 15th birthday celebration, and of one day travelling to Paris.  But when Castro’s revolutionary soldiers come to her town, everything changes: people are arrested and executed; neighbors spy on neighbors; freedoms are stripped away; and her parents confine Lucia and her 7 year old brother Frankie at home in the hopes of keeping them safe. 

But after just a few weeks, her parents decide to send Lucia and Frankie to Miami alone, since it appears that the Castro regime will soon abduct all children for forced re-education by the government.  Lucia and Frankie soon find a placement in Grand Island, NE, on a small farm with a kind, elderly Catholic farmer and his wife.  There, Lucia tries to fit in to American life but is worried both about her parents who are still in Cuba and losing touch with her Cuban heritage. 

From the early pages of the novel until it ends in the Spring of 1962, Lucia grows up from a likable, but rather self-absorbed naive girl to a young woman whose courage and determination make her both wise beyond her years and deeply appreciative of the love and grace that surrounds her new life. Gonzalez writes with subtle grace and skill, and her sense of place and time is engaging and easily draws the reader into this lovely story.

kabulSet in the summer and fall of 2001, N.H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabulis the story of 11 year old Fadi and his family who, as the novel opens, are escaping from their home in Kabul, Afghanistan to seek asylum in the US.  The opening sequence of their midnight escape is harrowing: as the family is fleeing to the smugglers’ truck with the Taliban fast approaching, Fadi loses hold of his 6 year old sister’s hand and she is left behind on the war-ravaged streets.

Once in America, Fadi’s family settles in the Bay Area to a life much different than they imagined: his father’s PhD is worthless and he is reduced to driving a taxi; his mother’s depression over losing her daughter confines her to bed; his older sister seems to fall easily into the life of an American teenager; and Fadi starts middle school feeling awkward, isolated, and deeply at fault for losing his sister.  He finds solace in the school’s photography club and soon hatches a scheme to get back to Pakistan to try and find his sister in the refugee camps. 

But then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 take place and what began as simply culture shock for Fadi and his family becomes a daily onslaught of shame, confusion, and fear as they must deal with the hatred of some Anglos and the rising anger  and political divide inside the Afghan refugee community itself. 

Both The Red Umbrella and Shooting Kabulexplore the complexities that teens face as they leave behind the only culture and home they’ve ever known and must find a way to understand and fit into American society. By getting to know and like both Lucia and Fadi, the reader will not only gain an appreciation for how the political upheaval in Cuba and Afghanistan changed people’s lives, it’s evident after reading both of these books that there’s no place or time or people who are immune to turmoil and war.  That both Gonzalez and Senzai end their stories on uplifting and hopeful notes reinforces the feeling that despite the struggles that come our way, with courage, hope, and determination, a person can survive and make a life worth living.

  • Posted by Cori
One comment to “Building a Life Across Two Cultures”
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