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Richie's Picks: 90 MILES TO HAVANA by Enrique  Flores-Galbis, Roaring 
Brook, August 2010, 296p., ISBN: 978-1-59643-168-3   

"We were hardly aware of the hardships they beared,
for our  time was taken with treasure.
Oh, life was a game, and work was a  shame,
And pain was prevented by pleasure.
The world, cold and gray, was  so far away
In a distance only money could measure.
But their  thoughts were broken by the ringing of revolution."
-- Phil Ochs
"'To really show what a revolution is, you'd have to draw at  least three 
pictures.  A before,...a during, and then an  after...'
"Bebo picks up five brown eggs in his big hand.  'This is  before,' he says 
and holds them up like a magician about to make them  disappear.  'Inside 
these eggs are all important things that everybody  needs: schools, houses, 
food, and money.  For one reason or another a few  people have gotten hold of 
all the eggs and they've got  them all locked  up.'  Then he starts 
cracking one egg after the other.  The slippery  yokes slide in, and then chase 
each other around the white bowl.  'This is  during.  Things get smashed and 
cracked, everything gets cut loose, and  everybody starts grabbing.  That's 
what we saw last night.  It's  what's happening now,' he says as he pokes at 
the five yokes with a fork, and  then scrambles them into one big yellow 
"'The after is the important part!' he announces and tips the  bowl so I 
can see the bubbling yellow stuff inside.  'You can make a lot of  different 
omelets out of this stuff depending on what you add to it, and how you  cook 
it,' he says as he looks over his shoulder at the kitchen door.  'Some  
people are going to love this new omelet, and some are going to hate it.   But 
there's one thing I can say for sure, Julian, once you crack those eggs,  
nothing stays the same.'"
When, more than half a century ago, he was asked  to evaluate the Batista 
regime for the U.S. government, Arthur Schlesinger  Jr famously wrote, "The 
corruption of the Government, the brutality of the  police, the regime's 
indifference to the needs of the people for education,  medical care, housing, 
for social justice and economic an open  invitation to 
I've always found modern Cuban history and politics to  be quite complex 
topics for discussion.  And that is one of the  reasons why I am so very 
impressed with 90 MILES TO HAVANA, an  outstanding piece of historical fiction 
through which readers are  provided a great introduction through the eyes of a 
child to what  was happening on both sides of that 90 mile divide when, 
fifty years  ago, General Batista was out and Fidel Castro was in charge.
As we learn from Julian's story, when one dictator is  replaced by another 
dictator, some people love the new omelet while others  hate it.  Julian and 
his two older brothers are among thousands of children  whose parents are 
so unhappy with what is going on that they choose to  send their children off 
to the United States in a program called Operation  Pedro Pan.  Author 
Enrique Flores-Galbis has based the story upon his own  participation in the 
Operation Pedro Pan program and, like his character Julian,  Flores-Galbis 
found himself in a camp full of Cuban children in  Florida.
"Finally the tables are starting to turn"
-- Tracy Chapman
Camp Kendal, into which Julian and his older brothers are  brought, is 
overcrowded and under-staffed, providing the perfect breeding  ground for a 
group of young thugs to take charge, practicing extortion  and providing favors 
and more pleasant living conditions to their friends  and supporters.  
Unfortunately for Julian, the bully who has  taken control is a teenager who 
Julian's brothers know and  had tangled with back in Havana.  The young priest 
who is  theoretically in charge of the camp is blind to what is really going 
on  because he is focused on the results, the fact that there is order and  
cleanliness; that everything is organized and is getting done.   This 
provides readers a great illustration -- on a small,  understandable scale -- of 
how inequitable non-democratic systems  can seem so well-functioning while 
being built on the pain and suffering of the  vast majority.   
"I like being around Bebo because he'll explain how to read a  compass or 
how a complicated carburetor works and never once say that I'm too  young to 
Throughout much of the story, Julian also suffers the fate of  many a 
youngest child: his brothers and parents constantly assume that he is  too young 
to bear responsibility, to be able to understand  anything, or to be 
trusted.  And so in following Julian's quest  to feel valued -- what Erik Erikson 
refers to as the Industry vs  Inferiority stage -- we come to really 
appreciate the two significant adult  characters who treat Julian differently  -- 
his father's friend Bebo, and  Dolores, the cook at Camp Kendal.  Thanks to 
these two adults, Julian comes  to believe that he can do anything to which he 
sets his mind.  He then gets  the opportunity to put his newfound 
confidence to work when he  gets involved in a scheme to travel by boat to  Havana 
and sneak a small group of Cubans out of the  country.
How, fifty years later, to achieve a normalization of  relations with Cuba 
is a significant U.S. foreign policy  challenge today.  I continue to hope 
that our extremely-popular  Secretary of State will be given an opportunity 
to try  negotiating some history on that diplomatic front. 
For young readers, including those with little or no  knowledge of Cuba 
beyond a colored shape on a map, 90 MILES TO HAVANA is an  exciting history, 
adventure, and coming-of-age story that  will certainly cause them to listen 
up and ask questions when they next  hear or read mention of that island 
country that is so near and yet so far  away.   

Richie  Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ ( 
Moderator  _ 
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FTC  NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he 
 will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written  after 
reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these  review 
copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his  booktalks at schools 
and  libraries.

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