Module 5: Post 2: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

Book Title: Before We Were Free

Author: Julia Alvarez

Publisher: Laurel Leaf

Published Date: 2007


Anita lives her life in constant fear. A fear she has no name or face for. She doesn’t know why her cousins were sent away and is afraid for her family. There are secret police in her driveway and she can no longer go to school. She finds solace in her diary, but can only write in pencil so that it can be erased if necessary. After much confusion and a lot of secrecy, Anita finds herself in a very grown-up situation.

APA Reference:

Alvarez, J. (2007). Before we were free. New York, NY: Laurel Leaf.


I enjoyed this a lot. I didn’t think I would, but the writing is well done and draws you in.

Professional Review:

Alvarez has written two outstanding adult novels set during the final days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic: In the Time of the Buttterflies is a fictional account of real-life sisters martyred during the revolution; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is an autobiographical novel about a family adjusting to American life after escaping Trujillo’s regime. Though written for a younger audience, Before We Were Free bridges those two novels with the story of the family the Garcia girls left behind, and of their continued involvement in the revolution. In the fall of 1960 the atmosphere is thick with secrets, and Anita, almost twelve, does not know why her “best-friend cousins” had to leave the country so suddenly or even why the SIM (secret police) are stationed in her driveway. Anita tries to gain some control over the frightening and confusing events by writing them down in her diary — but always in pencil in case she needs to erase the “evidence.” Anita’s final months in the Dominican Republic are a poignant blend of typical adolescent concerns — Alvarez deftly contrasts Anita’s first superficial crush on brash American Sam with the sweet friendship of thoughtful Oscar — and the terrible realities of life under a violent dictatorship. Moments of sharp tension occur throughout: when the SIM invade their home, when El Jefe (Trujillo himself) appears at a party in the family compound, when a policeman discovers weapons in Papi’s trunk but, miraculously, waves him on — an indication of the growing resistance. After Papi is taken away, Anita and her mother spend two months in hiding, living in a walk-in closet; Alvarez chronicles this period of time entirely through Anita’s diary entries. If these can’t compare to her historical predecessor Anne Frank’s, well, few can. But Anita’s own story is a realistic and compelling account of a girl growing up too quickly while coming to terms with the cost of freedom.

Adams, L. (2002). Before we were free. Horn Book Magazine, 78(5), 563-564.

Library Uses:

This could be used to show the struggles that people from the Dominican Republic/Cuba/Mexico have in their countries and why they want to find someplace better for themselves.


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