Book Review: 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis

Title: 90 Miles to Havana
Author: Enrique Flores-Galbis
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Year: 2010
Ages: 9 – 12

The revolution has triumphed in Cuba, and a new dictator is in charge. Spies are put on every street. The new regime abolishes private property. People have to make long lines for meat, bread, gas, and other basic needs. Dissenters disappear or are sent to jail, and people start to flee the island. Julian’s parents make the painful decision to send him and his older brothers, Aquilino and Gordo, to the United States alone through the Operation Peter Pan. Once in Miami, Florida, the three brothers go to live in a camp for Cuban refugees, and where they have to wait to be placed in a foster home or an orphanage unless a family member or a sponsor claims them. The camp is not what they expected it to be. Bullies threaten the kids, and the adults in charge have too much on their plate to care. Written by Enrique Flores-Galbis, 90 Miles to Havana is a story about children growing up amid a revolution that took everything away from their family and the power of resiliency while alone in a strange land.

Flores-Galbis based this tear-jerking story on his experiences as a nine-year-old child who got out of Cuba, without his parents, through the Operation Peter Pan in 1961. Like the characters in the story, the author and his brothers lived in a refugee camp in Florida. The fact that the characters’ experiences are based on real events makes the story an authentic one, allowing readers to learn about this historical event.

I related to the book on a personal level because my father and his family had to leave Cuba in similar circumstances. While he and my uncle did not get out through the Operation Peter Pan, some of their cousins did. Also, the government did not allow my grandmother to get out of Cuba with her children, so my father and my uncle did not see her again until a couple of years later. The things that happen to Julian and his family happened to thousands of families in real life. The long lines for food and essential goods, ration cards, disappearances, and arrests were real. Soldiers coming to houses to confiscate everything and neighbors working as spies were actual occurrences. The separations of families happened.

Flores-Galbis managed to bring alive all of this tragedy in an age-appropriate manner and with effortless English language sprinkled with typical Cuban words in Spanish, like “chico” and “niño.” I could hear my grandparents every time I read these words. I am glad children can learn about the reality of what happened in Cuba through this story. Treachery, betrayal, bullying, loneliness, uncertainty, and grief are part of this story. But resiliency, friendship, generosity, adaptation, bravery, hard work, and family come shining through adversity.

I would recommend 90 Miles to Havana to children between the ages of nine and twelve. I would only recommend it to younger kids, between seven and eight, if they are advanced readers. Young readers and adults can read the book too just to learn about Cuban history.

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs’ Read Around the World Summer Reading Series. It is my first year participating, and I am very excited about this summer reading series because it recommends diverse and multicultural books that allow readers to see the world from different perspectives.


2011 Pura Belpré Honor Book

2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List

New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award Master List

Oklahoma Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award Master List

Rating: 5 stars

Where to Find it: Local Library and Amazon

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