Young teen Luisito Ramirez and his parents flee Cuba in 1979, on a rickety raft with a failing motor. They lose their food and water in a storm, but encounter luck in the form of a US Coast Guard vessel. They are also lucky in being able to stay with family already in the States, but the cousins live in Maryland, which is a problem for Luisito. Before he left Cuba, his grandmother asked him to deliver a message to a Cuban priest in Miami. And Luisito begins noticing the same two men watching his family’s movements – are they spies for the Cuban government? Is his grandmother involved in a Cuban resistance movement? How will Luisito deliver his grandmother’s message if spies are trying to stop him?
Readers of this YA novel will learn about Cuban customs, and will absorb some Spanish, since the chapter numbers are duplicated in that language, and Spanish phrases are incorporated into the text. The plot presents adjustment issues faced by Cuban immigrants, such as disbelief at the abundance of food in shops, having one’s name Americanized, and fighting assumptions Americans make about Latinos. (Surely Luisito will be interested in playing soccer, not basketball!) Luisito is a likeable character, and his extended family is portrayed warmly. Since the publisher is an arm of the Daughters of St. Paul, the story’s emphasis on the Catholic Church’s role in the Cuban immigrant experience is not surprising. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel, and an epilogue distinguishes fact from fiction. I recommend the book to young people wanting to know more about Cuban Americans’ heritage, the Mariel Boat Lift, or what life was like for an immigrant their own age.