cover image Letters from Cuba

Letters from Cuba

Ruth Behar. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-51647-7

In 1938, Esther, 11, travels alone from her small Jewish village in Poland to join her father in a small Cuban town, vowing to help earn enough money to pay for the rest of their family—her grandmother, mother, and four younger siblings—to join them. Inspired by her own grandmother’s life, Behar (Lucky Broken Girl) crafts a series of loving letters from Esther to her sister, describing the perilous journey and Esther’s first year in Cuba. Esther’s optimism, determination, and unconventionality allow her to adapt quickly; while her father remains as true to his faith as possible, Esther explores her world and, thanks to a highly developed skill learned from her mother, succeeds far beyond expectations. Esther’s new friendships with both Cubans and fellow immigrants set the stage for encounters with numerous benevolent minor characters and one who embodies the period’s terrors. Global issues such as Hitler’s rise, anti-Semitism, slavery, and worker protests are neatly woven into Esther’s narrative. Despite a telescoped time frame and an underdeveloped supporting cast, Behar’s appreciative descriptions of Cuba and Esther’s close, protective bonds with her father and sister make for an engaging read. Ages 10–up. [em](Aug.) [/em]