Stories of profound courage in the face of unfathomable circumstances pepper the memories of generations past. Though they can sometimes be difficult to talk about, these important accounts keep history alive in the hearts of modern humans. I have had the fortune of talking with my grandparents about their experiences in the Korean War and witnessing Japanese internment camps, and these stories help me understand the past and how these events shaped both their lives and my own.
Author Alda P. Dobbs grew up hearing stories of strength and survival about her great-grandmother’s harrowing journey escaping the Federales in Mexico for a better life in the United States. These stories inspired her book, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. This book takes place in 1913, a time when politics in Mexico were in turmoil and Federales and Revolucinarios were in constant conflict. When Petra’s village of Esperanzas is burned by the Federales, she gathers up her Abuelita, her sister Amelia, her baby brother Luisito, and the meager possessions they can carry and they travel barefoot across the desert. Along the way, they meet other brave souls and they find themselves closer and closer to the freedom promised in America. Their struggles are real, and the passage to the United States is more difficult than they ever expected. Please see my full review here.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, although this particular story is one I was not at all familiar with. Strikingly similar to many of the challenges facing refugees across the world today, Petra’s experience is one that has been felt by countless people the world over. Books like this one are critical to global history because they allow future generations to relive the memories of those who have gone before. And as we know, history has a tendency to repeat itself, so keeping these stories alive can help prevent past tragedies from reoccurring.
Within this book, Spanish and native Mexican words and phrases are incorporated seamlessly, sometimes directly translated and other times simply defined through context. The first time a word is introduced, it is placed in italics. After that, though, these words become a part of the narrative, no longer standing apart from their English counterparts. This intentional style connects readers deeply into Petra’s language and culture and envelopes readers in the narrative.
Beautiful descriptions and metaphors are found throughout the story and add color and life to an unquestionably challenging situation. One example is a small stone that Petra carries with her because it was a gift from her father. Calling it her “baby diamond,” Petra understands that a piece of coal, if subjected to enough pressure and heat, will one day become a diamond. Like this fascinating process, Petra too becomes hardened and more striking because of the experiences she faces. Throughout the story, readers are entranced by the desperation and fear felt by Petra and her family while also being mesmerized by the vibrancy of the land around them.
This powerful historical novel is an important addition to libraries for middle grade readers. At once an entertaining story and one that is based on truth, it will leave readers inspired to study more about this terrifying moment in Mexican history and how it relates to similar events happening today. I highly recommend this #ownvoices novel for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers alike.
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