Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna – by Alda P. Dobbs, Sourcebooks, 9781728234656, 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
What did you like about the book? Dobbs based this story on tales told of her own great grandmother’s experiences fleeing civil war in Mexico in 1913 and her eventual journey to the United States. Twelve-year-old Petra lives with her abuelita, her 6-year-old sister Amelia and baby Luisito, her mother having died in childbirth while her father has been forcibly drafted into the Federales. She promises her father that she will look after the family, but when their village is destroyed, they have no choice but to head north, driven by fear and hunger. Petra faces several crossroads; a white family offers to take her to the U.S., if she’ll leave her family behind and a captain in Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army tries to enlist her as a soldier. But each time Petra chooses hardship and uncertainty to keep her grandmother, brother and sister safe. Dobbs does a good job of capturing the senseless violence of war and its devastating impact on civilians. I liked that she was able to explain the basics of the conflict through the characters’ conversations, and considering the proximity of Mexico, it’s an historic event that many students will be unfamiliar with and find interesting. She seamlessly weaves in Spanish words and phrases and provides textual clues to allow the reader to glean meaning. The author also provides an extensive timeline at the end of the book, which helped me understand the outline of the event and could inspire students to read further about the Revolution.
Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s an exciting story, but also gruesome at times. I thought the recommended age of 8 would be too young for this tale. I found Abuelita to be a bit of a straw dog. She’s initially critical of Petra for wearing pants and even midway through the book insists that the girl focus on finding a husband. She also dismisses Petra’s dreams of learning to read, arguing that peasants shouldn’t look above their station. Then in the last few pages, she quickly changes her tune. The final scene of the battered family pushing over a bridge into the U.S. felt rushed and I was confused about the shifting financial requirement and the role of the American soldiers.
To whom would you recommend this book? This would be a good option for middle grade students who enjoy historical fiction. I did really appreciate the authenticity of the setting and the opportunity to learn more about modern Mexican history.
Who should buy this book? Middle school and public libraries.
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: May 30, 2021