Two new books give readers insight into life under Caribbean and South American dictatorships through the eyes of young protagonists:
My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood by Rosemary Wells, Secundino Fernandez and Peter Ferguson (Candlewick, 65 pages, $23, ages 7 to 10) - Secundino Fernandez was forced to leave his beloved hometown of Havana twice -- as a 6-year-old, when his family stayed with relatives in Madrid who needed his father's help; and again as a 10-year-old, when his family fled Castro's regime in 1959 and settled in New York.
The boy became an architect there but never lost his love for the buildings of old Havana.
In 2001, Wells heard a radio interview with Fernandez in which he described his homesickness for the Cuba of his childhood. She was inspired to find him and tell his story for young readers. The result is a touching memoir that captures the sensitivity and sorrow of a lonely boy uprooted from his home as well as the fear and upheaval of a country in revolution.
The book is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Ferguson, who opts for an amber tone and expressive portraits that neatly capture the 1950s era.
The Disappeared by Gloria Whelan, new in paperback (Speak, 144 pages, $6.99, age 12 and older) - In a far grimmer story, Whelan takes readers to 1970s Argentina, where, during the presidency of Jorge Rafael Videla, many innocent people were dragged to prisons and never heard from again. These lost innocents became "the Disappeared, " prompting mothers to march in demand of their return. Whelan, the National Book Award-winning author of Homeless Bird, tells the story of siblings Eduardo and Silvia, alternating chapters in their voices. Eduardo has protested once too often and is abducted from their home and thrown into a cold cell and tortured. Silvia meets, by chance, the son of a powerful general and decides to enact a rash plan: become his girlfriend long enough to ask for her brother's release. The story pulses with danger and is often difficult to read because of the scenes of Eduardo's torture. The resolution of the plot is not as believable as what has preceded it, but Whelan convincingly depicts a nation's atmosphere of suspicion and fear. In the epilogue, she supplies historical references to ground her fictional story of devoted siblings. — Nancy Gilson