In 1967, many Cubans tried to escape Fidel Castro's communist takeover by emigrating to America. Thirteen-year-old Yara Garcia's family is patiently waiting for their papers to arrive so that they may join their family in Miami, Florida. Yara tells the Garcias' story through a journal that her father has given her for being such an exemplary student. After spending her birthday in a mandatory school/work program, Yara must say good-bye to her friends, her brother Pepito, and her homeland to leave for America.
Once her family has arrived safely, they must adjust to the ways of this modern new world. Yara and her two sisters, Ileana and Ana Maria, must not only attend new schools but must also learn English while still trying to maintain good grades and make new friends. Papi, Yara's father, joins a militia group that is training to attack and regain control of Cuba, while Mami, Yara's mother, gets a job and learns to drive a car without him knowing. As Yara's family tries to adapt to their new environment, they struggle to find a balance between their Cuban beliefs and the American way of life.
- Yara is trying to adjust to American life, but is still torn over obeying her parents' Cuban "rules". In what ways does Yara respect her parents' wishes, even when she doesn't want to? In what ways does Yara decide what is best for her instead of obeying her parents?
- Papi, Yara's father, seems to strongly resist change by repeating that the family should not adjust because they will be back in Cuba soon. At what moments do you start to see Papi adjusting to American life? Do you think that he will ever fully adjust? Explain.
- Mami, Yara's mother, begins to adjust to the change of living in America. How does her getting a job and learning to drive a car affect the family? In what ways does Mami try to keep their Cuban heritage and customs constant in their life? How does Mami's acceptance of American life help the rest of the family adjust?
- Ileana, Yara's older sister, tries to adapt to American life by rejecting Cuban customs. How does Ileana's rebellion affect the family? How does it affect Yara? Ileana also fights her family to get a job. How does this new responsibility change Ileana?
- Yara meets and befriends a girl in school named Jane. How does Jane help Yara adjust to American life? In what ways do Jane and her family show respect to Yara's family's beliefs and customs?
- Yara's uncle and his family help the Garcias get adjusted to American life. What qualities does EfraÃn demonstrate that help ease this adjustment? How does Efrain's joining the army affect the family?
- Yara's grandfather, Abuelo Tony, teaches her and her sister, Ana Maria many things. Abuelo Tony has many sayings. How do they affect Yara? How does Abuelo Tony's death affect the family? How does it affect Yara personally?
- Pepito, Yara's older brother, stayed in Cuba because he was in the army. In what ways does his being in Cuba put a strain on the family? In what ways does it hold back their progress in adjusting to American life?
Settings and Theme
- In what ways has the family's attitude toward one another changed from Cuba to America? What things have some of the family members done in America that they may never have thought of doing when living in Cuba?
- Papi asks the family to live "suspended in the middle between two countries." Yara disagrees and says that "We have to be either here or thereÂ We must choose." Is there a way to live in both? How does the family begin to accomplish this?
- Describe some of the prejudices or other barriers the GarcÃa family face in Cuba. Describe the prejudices or barriers they face in America. How does the family overcome them? How does Yara personally deal with them?
- This book was written from Yara's point of view. How might the book differ if written by another family member?
- Yara wrote "It made me wonder what kind of life I might have had, the kind of life all my family would have had, if the Communists had not taken over our country. . . How strange that one event, one decision, can change so many parts of so many people's lives." How do you think the story would have been different if the family hadn't been forced to leave Cuba?