The Life and Times of a Gringa in Revolutionary Cuba
Anna Veltfort’s piercing graphic memoir Goodbye, My Havana reveals the oppression of Cuba’s citizens by the authoritarian Castro government, as witnessed and experienced by a young lesbian woman.
Veltfort was a teenager in 1962 when her procommunist stepfather brought her family to Cuba from the US. She was an outsider, both a pale-skinned “gringa” and a young woman discovering that her sexuality violated the norms prescribed by the Cuban government.
At first, Veltfort was protected by her father’s position in the government, but later she saw her friends suffer the harsh consequences of being discovered as LGBTQ+. Over the course of years, she learned about the Cuban leadership’s policy failures. The information was contrary to the steady diet of propaganda that the Cuban people were supplied.
By 1972, the restrictions on freedoms were too severe, the personal risk too great, and opportunities elsewhere were too enticing. Veltfort, by then a young woman, decided to leave Cuba. It was a perilous endeavor.
The book’s illustrations are clear and consistent throughout, a critical feature for a detailed story with many characters. The layouts weave into the book actual copies of newspaper headlines, propaganda posters, excerpts from Cuban magazines, and photos, as well as other relevant material, including text from Castro’s speeches. The result is a deep, penetrating stare into Castro’s Cuba.
Though it is somewhat overshadowed by the political intrigue, Veltfort’s coming-of-age-story is also compelling. She finds love, only to leave it behind in Cuba. She’s plucky and endearing as both character and narrator.
With its rare combination of skill, observation, circumstance, and experience, Goodbye, My Havana is an unforgettable graphic memoir.
PETER DABBENE (August 27, 2019)
Poignant and with heartbreak and touches of humor throughout, Kate DiCamillo’s Beverly, Right Here is a tale about learning to trust in others and in oneself, related by fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski.
There is nothing left for Beverly in the house by the orange trees. Her dog is dead; her mother is an alcoholic; one of her best friends is gone. So Beverly leaves. She winds up in a small town where a cast of colorful characters, including weary Mr. Denby and warmhearted Iola, show her that sometimes it’s okay to let people in.
The story is uncomplicated, but its straightforwardness and realism are engaging. Some questions are unanswered, including whether Beverly will stay with Iola and what comes of her mother, pulling attention from book’s themes. DiCamillo’s short sentences make the book near poetic, and the established rhythm keeps the story moving. Elsewhere, choppy syntax mirrors Beverly’s inner turmoil; it’s a beautiful added element.
Each of DiCamillo’s characters helps to shape who Beverly becomes. Their individual quirks and charms—one character has fashion model dreams; another has their books—make them memorable. Beverly is the hardest to get to know because she is so afraid to let anyone see her. As she learns to trust, her distance changes, but it’s never fully clear what she is feeling. Her inner feelings must be pieced together from the memories and bits of verse that she recalls.
As hopeful as it is heartbreaking, Beverly, Right Here offers up messages of trust and self-worth that are important for all young people to hear.
VIVIAN TURNBULL (August 27, 2019)
Unable to fly south for the winter, a lone redbird seeks shelter in the surrounding woods, but not every tree is a gracious host. In this folk tale, fairy tale, and just-so story all in one, deep pine greens, bright red feathers, and a medley of golden leaves make each tree identifiable. The fir, juniper, and blue spruce each volunteer to keep the redbird safe as autumn turns to winter, earning the Frost Queen’s eternal favor.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (August 27, 2019)
Food and Family Lore from the Lowcountry
Sixth generation Gullah and Native American Daufuskie Island native Sallie Ann Robinson’s heartfelt cooking compilation is studded with history, folklore, and color photos of the long-isolated South Carolina sea island, personalized with cherished memories of a “Beenyah” childhood rich in tradition.
Growing up in a large farm family without running water or electricity meant that Robinson did many chores, helping to gather and prepare food and take care of the livestock. She recalls these as “really the best of times” with the rewards of delicious meals. Her recipes reflect this connection to the land and are rooted in the freshest seasonal ingredients from the garden and the sea. Distinctive dishes featuring duck, turkey, rice, and shellfish further distinguish this from other Southern cookbooks.
Some recipes have fast preparation times, while others rely on “cooking a long pot” so that cooks can “stay nearby to give it the love it needs.” These are valuable contributions to American culinary history, recording an oral tradition of family recipes and kitchen wisdom passed down from many ancestors. Robinson infuses a good bit of local dialect to flavor the book, along with a helpful glossary of Gullah words and phrases.
Recipes are interspersed with detailed and lyrical reminiscences about Grandmomma Blossom’s garden wisdom, summers spent fishing and crabbing, and the rituals of the annual hog slaughter. Robinson has fond memories about being a sixth grader when Pat Conroy spent a year teaching at Daufuskie Island’s one-room schoolhouse, recorded in his book The Water is Wide. Other essays touch on harsher topics like slavery and bigotry, from which Robinson’s family and community were able to shield her during her youth.
Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen is a book to treasure as both a cultural history resource and a tempting cookbook. Robinson attracts with her recipes, but sets the hook with her immersive descriptions of a unique American place and time, noting that “One of the best ways to remember history is to taste it.”
RACHEL JAGARESKI (August 27, 2019)
Create Lifelike Roses and Other Blossoms
Naomiki Sato’s Origami Roses is a beautiful and inspiring book full of amazing, complex, and realistic blooms made from paper.
The book includes eleven projects covering seven types of roses, not to mention cherry blossoms, bellflowers, plumeria, and bougainvillea. All the patterns are true origami—made without cutting, unless the base shape is something other than square. Glue and tape are sometimes used in assembly: to attach a bud to a calyx, or to add thorns to a stem. A gallery section displays the blossoms in striking, artistic ways, with long-stemmed roses displayed with leaves and thorns, and individual cherry blossom petals seeming to float in an unfelt breeze.
The patterns are shown in small and detailed step-by-step diagrams, aided by some photographs. Levels of difficulty are indicated with star ratings. The simplest projects are the bellflowers and bougainvillea at one-and-a-half stars; the most complex is the five-star old rose rosette. Most are not for beginners—even the simple square rose involves 60 steps—but those well versed in paper folding will enjoy the challenge of these fascinating designs. The text helps to explain what is illustrated in the photographs and diagrams, and arrows, numbers, and other markings on the illustrations make everything more clear.
In addition to classic square paper designs, the book also uses a pentagon shape to make a few of the roses, giving them a different look and opening up new possibilities for paper folders who might not have used the shape before. Sidebars offer more inspiration and instruction on topics like folding neatly, cutting out the pentagon shape, and assembling flower parts.
Origami Roses is a lovely book full of exciting techniques, best suited for those experienced in paper folding.
SARAH WHITE (September 19, 2019)