Full disclosure: I read this book while in Cuba, so I might have enjoyed it more than I ordinarily would have. Enrique Flores-Galbis is a Cuban-American, so the representation in this novel is accurate and has authority. Huge plus right there.
90 Miles to Havana is the story of twelve-year-old Julian who is living a normal happy life when the Cuban Revolution comes and changes everything, and he and his two brothers are sent to Miami and have to figure out their new lives.
Julian is a sweet kid. I found it endearing that throughout the book, even though there is a revolution and they are separated from their parents, Julian's main struggle is one of being an only child. HIs family is so used to seeing his as the baby who isn't ready for any type of responsibility that they hold onto that view of him long after he grows out of it. It is such a universal character arch and helps to make Julian more accessible. The family dynamics are very realistic. You can feel both their affection for and frustration with one another.
I think that Bebo the families servant is my favorite character. He sees everything and everyone so clearly. He also represents the population of Cubans for whom the Revolution was something positive. He let Julian stretch his limits without doubting him or seeing his as incapable like his family. I think that everyone needs a Bebo in their lives at some point.
One weakness of this book was the rosy view of democracy. There is a subplot involving the children learning to use democracy to solve their problems. But none of them seem to understand the revolution that they just left in Cuba (understandable) which I think is essential if they are to understand the difference between the old Dictator, the new Communist government, and the US government. And since this is a middle-level book perhaps it needed to be made clearer to the reader. If you went into this book with no prior knowledge of the Cuban Revolution or the way that children were sent away right after it I think that it could be confusing.
This is definitely a book about plot. So much is happening that character development has to take a backseat. Which is a bit unfortunate because there are a lot of characters and the lack of development sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate between them. There is nothing special about the writing. There is a lovely analogy of the revolution involving eggs that I found particularly compelling but other than that the phrasing is a bit sparse and external for my taste. However, that sort of writing often works very well for reluctant readers who just want to "get on with the story."
I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and I am going to suggest it to students when school starts up again. If you are interested in a book about Cuba, growing up, or brotherhood then look no further.
When Julian's parents make the heartbreaking decision to send him and his two brothers away from Cuba to Miami via the Pedro Pan operation, the boys are thrust into a new world where bullies run rampant and it's not always clear how best to protect themselves.