Cover image for Before we were free
Before we were free
Alvarez, Julia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Physical Description:
167 pages ; 22 cm
In the early 1960s in the Dominican Republic, twelve-year-old Anita learns that her family is involved in the underground movement to end the bloody rule of the dictator, General Trujillo.
Reading Level:
890 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.6 8.0 60706.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 6.5 12 Quiz: 31965 Guided reading level: X.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Reading List
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government's secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo's dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl's struggle to be free.

Author Notes

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950 and was raised in the Dominican Republic. Before becoming a full-time writer, she traveled across the country with poetry-in-the-schools programs and then taught at the high school level and the college level. In 1991, she earned tenure at Middlebury College and published her first book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, which won the PEN Oakland/Jefferson Miles Award for excellence in 1991. Her other works include In the Time of the Butterflies, The Other Side of El Otro Lado, and Once upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-10. What is it like for a 12-year-old girl living under a ruthless dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960? Alvarez draws on her own cousins' and friends' experiences to tell the political story through the eyes of Anita, whose father is involved in a plot to assassinate the dictator and bring democracy to the island. This doesn't have the passionate lyricism of Alvarez's great adult novels. The pace, at least for the first half of the book, is very slow, perhaps because the first-person, present-tense narrative stays true to Anita's bewildered viewpoint and is weighed down with daily detail and explanation of the political issues ("I feel just awful that my father has to kill someone for us to be free"). Yet it is Anita's innocence, her focus on the ordinary, that young readers will recognize. She's busy with school, friends, getting her period, falling in love, even as the secrets and spies come closer and, finally, the terror destroys her home. Her father is arrested; she and her mother are in hiding. There's no sensationalism, but Anita knows the horrific facts of how prisoners are tortured and killed. Trying to block out the truth, she loses her voice, even forgets the words for things, until she starts to write in a secret diary. Readers interested in the history will grab this. Like Lyll Becerra de Jenkins' The Honorable Prison (1988), about a young girl whose father resists a Latin American dictatorship, and Beverley Naidoo's The Other Side of Truth (Booklist's 2001 Top of the List winner for youth fiction), Alvarez's story will also spark intense discussion about politics and family. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In what PW called "pitch-perfect narration," in a starred review, a 12-year old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960 relates the terrors of her country's regime and the attempt to overthrow Trujillo's dictatorship. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-10-By the morning of her 12th birthday, in December, 1960, Anita de la Torre's comfortable childhood in her home in the Dominican Republic is a thing of the past. The political situation for opponents of the dictator Rafael Trujillo has become so dangerous that nearly all of her relatives have emigrated to the U.S., leaving only her uncle, T'o Toni, somewhere in hiding, and her parents, still determined to carry on the resistance. Over the next year, the girl becomes increasingly aware of the nature of the political situation and her family's activities. Once her father's cotorrita, or talkative parrot, she grows increasingly silent. When the dictator is assassinated, her father and uncle are arrested, her older brother is sheltered in the Italian Embassy, and Anita and her mother must go into hiding as well. Diary entries written by the child while in hiding will remind readers of Anne Frank's story. They will find Anita's interest in boys and her concerns about her appearance, even when she and her mother can see no one, entirely believable. Readers will be convinced by the voice of this Spanish-speaking teenager who tells her story entirely in the present tense. Like Anita's brother Mund'n, readers will bite their nails as the story moves to its inexorable conclusion.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 3 Now that the SIM are gone and the Washburns are living next door, Mami and Papi decide we can go back to school. But first, Mami sits us down. "I don't want you talking about what happened with your friends, she warns. "Why not?" I want to know. Mami quotes one of Chucha's sayings, "'No flies fly into a closed mouth.'" The less said, the better. "And that includes talking to Susie and Sammy," Mami adds, eyeing Lucinda and me. Lucinda has become friends with Sammy's older sister, just as I have with Sammy. Poor Mundín is stuck without a new friend. But he says he doesn't care. Papi is giving him extra responsibility, taking him to work the days we aren't in school. Some nights after supper, Mundín gets to drive the car up and down all the driveways that connect the houses in the compound. "If anything happens to me," Papi says from time to time, ((you're the man of the house." "If he wants to be the man of the house, he's going to have to stop biting his nails," Mami says, breaking the tense silence that follows such remarks. The night before going back to school, I spend a long time picking out my outfit, as if I'm getting ready for the first day of classes. Finally, I settle on the parrot skirt Mami made me in imitation of the poodle skirt all the American girls are wearing. But even after everything is laid out, I feel apprehensive about going back. Everyone will be asking me why I've been absent for over two weeks. I myself don't understand why we weren't able to go to school just because the SIM were on our doorstep. After all, Papi still went to work every day. But Mami has refused to even discuss it. I go next door to Lucinda's room. My sister is setting her hair in rollers. Talk about torture! How can she sleep with those rods in her hair? For her outfit, she also picked out her skirt just like my parrot skirt, but she insisted on a poodle when Mami made hers. "Linda Lucinda," I butter her up. "What are we going to tell everyone at school? You know they're going to be asking us where we were." Lucinda sighs and rolls her eyes at herself in the mirror. She motions for me to come closer. "Don't talk in here," she whispers. "Why?" I say out loud. She gives me a disgusted look. "VAy?" I whisper in her ear. "Very funny," she says. I sit around until she's done with her rollers. Then she jerks her head for me to go out on the patio, where we can talk. "If people ask, just tell them we had the chicken pox, Lucinda says. "But we didn't." Lucinda closes her eyes until she regains her patience with me. "I know we didn't have the chicken pox, Anita. It's just a story, okayr, I nod. "But why didn't we really go to school?" Lucinda explains that after our cousins' departure, too many upsetting things have been happening and that's why Mami hasn't wanted us out of her sight. Raids by the SIM, like the one we had; arrests; accidents. "I heard Papi talking about some accident with butterflies or something, I tell her. "The Butterflies," Lucinda corrects me, nodding. "They were friends of Papi. He's really upset. Everyone is. Even the Americans are protesting." "Protesting what? Wasn't it a car accident?" Lucinda's rolls her eyes again at how little I know. "'Car accident" " she says, making quote marks in the air with her fingers, as if she doesn't really mean what she's saying. "You mean, they were-" "Shhh!" Lucinda hushes me. Suddenly, I understand. These women were murdered in a pre, tend accident! I shiver, imagining myself on the way to school, tumbling down a cliff, my parrot skirt flying up around me. Now I feel scared of leaving the compound. "So why send us to school at all?" "The Americans are our friends," Lucinda reminds me. "So for now, we're safe." I don't like the sound of "for now," or how Lucinda makes those quote marks in the air again when she says "we're safe." Mami is actually a lot calmer now that the Washburns have moved in. Not only is it nice to have the special protection of the consul next door, but the extra rent money is coming in handy. Construcciones de la Torre isn't doing well. Everything is at a standstill because of the embargo, whatever that is. We're having to cut corners and sell off our uncles' cars and the furniture from my grandparents' house from when Papito was making money. I offer to let Mami sell my brown oxfords and old-fashioned jumpers I don't like. But she smiles and says that won't be necessary just yet. Lucinda and I aren't the only ones to make friends with our neighbors. Manii starts a canasta group to introduce Mrs. Washbum to other Dominican ladies and help her practice her Spanish. Two or three tables are set up on the back patio. The ladies chat in lowered voices. Every once in a while, the new maid, Lorena, comes around with a tray of lemonades or clean ashtrays. Although Mami is trying to save money, there's too much work keeping up with all the houses in the compound for just Chucha. So Mami has hired the young girl to help out. But we have to be extra careful what we say around her. "Why?" I ask. "Because she's new?" Mami gives me a look that has "Cotonita! " written all over it. After I told Mami that her nickname for me was really getting on my nerves, she promised to stop using it. But she still lets me know with her eyes when I'm speaking up too much. "Just be careful what you say," Mami repeats. I guess you can't trust a maid who hasn't changed anyone's diaper in the family! Actually, I can't really complain about being asked to keep secrets. Sammy and I haven't said a word about our discovery. Twice we've gone back to Tfo Toni's casita only to find the door closed and the padlock in place. But there have been fresh footprints leading to and from the casita and a pile of cigarette butts, as if Someone without an ashtray has thrown them out the window. "Very fishy," Sammy observes, an expression which he says means that something strange is going on. Our compound is crawling with fish, all right. Excerpted from Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.