Middle Grade Review: Petra Luna
I'm doing a two-fer here, reviewing Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and The Other Side of the River together, since having read the first I went and jumped right into the second.
Title: Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and The Other Side of the River
Author: Alda P. Dobbs
Publication Info: 2021 and 2022 by Sourcebooks. As ebooks, 264 pages and 242 pages respectively
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher's Blurb (Barefoot Dreams):
It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna's mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left―her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito―until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.
Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: "They're like us barefoot peasants and indios―they're not meant to go far." But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border―a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.
Publisher's Blurb (The Other Side of the River):
Petra Luna is in America, having escaped the Mexican Revolution and the terror of the Federales. Now that they are safe, Petra and her family can begin again, in this country that promises so much. Still, twelve-year-old Petra knows that her abuelita, little sister, and baby brother depend on her to survive. She leads her family from a smallpox-stricken refugee camp on the Texas border to the buzzing city of San Antonio, where they work hard to build a new life. And for the first time ever, Petra has a chance to learn to read and write.
Yet Petra also sees in America attitudes she thought she'd left behind on the other side of the Río Grande―people who look down on her mestizo skin and bare feet, who think someone like her doesn't deserve more from life. Petra wants more. Isn't that what the revolution is about? Her strength and courage will be tested like never before as she fights for herself, her family, and her dreams.
I'm basically reviewing this as one story. Though each book stands fine on its own, together they complete the story (inasmuch as a story is ever complete). I found the tale compelling, and Petra a real mix of the sort of above-her-age responsibility you'd expect in her circumstances, and the early-adolescent angers and errors you would also expect. She's strong and smart, but not super-human in any way. I was about to say "except in her ability to learn languages," but I know enough people who are extraordinarily good at that to be willing to believe it of Petra.
The stories are at times painful--it is no fun to live through revolution and the destruction of your home, to witness death and despair. And that's not even getting into hatred and discrimination. But I thought the author did a beautiful job of neither glossing over the horror nor making it too graphic for children. Dobbs creates a real sense of what it was like to be there, without overwhelming the reader, and never losing sight of the fact that this is Petra's story, not that of the Mexican Revolution.
These are really well done historical novels, based on the experiences of the author's own great-grandmother, and are worth a read whatever your age. I do think the author nailed something appropriate for the middle-grade reader, aged 8 or 9 and up. The horrors of war are touched on, but not dwelt on, in a balance that I found about perfect. Give it a read for a little more understanding of a piece of North American history.