I loved this historical fiction tale of 12-year-old Petra Luna, who’s trapped between the forces of the Mexican Revolution in 1913.
A super-short timeline to keep events in mind while reading.
In 1910, Mexican President Porfirio Diaz’s election results are challenged by Francisco Maduro, who is jailed and calls for an armed uprising, a revolution, against Diaz and the upper classes he’s represented in a decades-long regime.
In the story, Petra’s father fights for Maduro, ushering in what many hoped would be a regime that championed the middle classes.
Maduro is elected president in 1911, but immediately faces armed uprisings: first from Emiliano Zapata, then from Diaz supporters, and then by Victoriano Huerta. Huerta’s regime is ushered in by the murder of Maduro and his vice president. Huerta is almost immediately opposed by a coalition of northern Mexican forces, which is where – if I read correctly – Petra is sandwiched between them.
It starts when the Federales, Huerta’s forces, sweep into the village of Esperanzas, looking to conscript recruits. Petra’s papa is a known fighter for Maduro, so to force him to fight for Huerta, he is blindfolded and put in front of a firing squad. He has no choice,and leaves to fight with the Federales. Petra and her abuela, little sister and brother are left behind to fend for themselves. They never see him again, although Petra never gives up hope.
Petra promises to take care of the family in her father’s absence and sells firewood to the village’s wealthy residents. She dreams of learning to read and going to the north, the United States, where they can live and work in peace. Until a day when the Federales sweep into the village again, this time looking to conscript more men/boys, and her older cousin, Pablo, is visiting.
The Federales tear apart the family’s windowless hut and terrorize her abuela, sister and toddler brother. Pablo joins the rebels and the family is tipped off that the Federales are coming to burn the village to the ground.
They flee to the north and then Petra begins the long, slow trek to the US, first on a train. After getting trapped between the sides multiple times, they make it to the border and the Rio Grande. The crossing over the international bridge is shut down as the murderous Federales approach, bent on killing everyone and anyone who won’t join their side. What happens next is both heart-breaking and uplifting. I won’t spoil the ending, just know it’s based on historical events.
The book features a wonderful note from the author, explaining her inspiration for the book, and a much more detailed timeline of events for readers.
There is a also a free, 18-page Educator's Guide, identifying key ideas and themes, standards for 18 reader observation questions, 11 visualization questions, and 15 comprehension questions. There are 19 application / extension questions, 16 connection questions, and 11 broader discussion questions. There's a list of 14 "Fun Activities" as well.