One of my reading challenges has the reader cover a wide variety of genres and specific types of books. One was an Own Voices book. When NetGalley offered Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna (Amazon) to me, I knew I’d found the perfect type of Own Voices book: historical fiction of events for which I had no knowledge, reading about another culture, a middle grade/YA book about a child coming of age. I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
“It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left―her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito―until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.
Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios―they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border―a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.”
Wow. Just wow. This book was just incredible. I could not put it down, I could not believe it was a children’s book. I could seriously see this book winning the Newbery medal next year. That’s how good it is.
Petra is a very strong young lady that has had to grow up fast. There’s been a revolution going on for a while (in 1913 Mexico), her mother died during childbirth the year before, and her father was taken away by the Federales to fight for them or face death. Petra is left living with her grandmother, her 6-year old sister and 1-year old brother. It’s up to her to keep food on the table. She does this by chopping firewood and selling it.
Then the Federales come to town and take everything of value from the homes before they burn down the village. Petra and her family are forced to take to the road to find the next town with a train station. Along their trip through the desert, the come upon a church which provides respite for a few days. Then, the priest kicks them out because the Federales are on their way. They need to find the train station, which requires a few days walking in the desert with very little water or food.
The family runs into some members of Pancho Villa’s revolutionary forces and Petra is asked to become a soldier. Instead, she says the family will make it’s way to the Rio Bravo and cross it to America to escape the revolution. Once they get to the border, the price to cross is so large, there’s no way they can afford it. To top it off, the few rebel soldiers in town at the border are leaving, and the Federales are on the way.
The tension throughout the book is palpable. The danger Petra’s family faces at every turn seems insurmountable. This is a gripping tale, where if you don’t know the history of Mexico’s revolution, and even if you do, you might not know this particular tale. The author says this book was inspired by family events that had been passed down orally. Then Dobbs researched the information and found a newspaper article describing the events she’s been hearing about for years confirming the family story.
I highly recommend this book, not just for children, but for adults, too It’s a harrowing tale that needs to be old.
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna will be released in September 2021.
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