Your Heart My Sky Love in a Time of Hunger

your heart my sky

“These fragile bodies of touch and taste

This fragrant skin, this hair like lace

Spirits open to the thrust of grace

Never a breath you can afford to waste”

-- Bruce Cockburn, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (1984)

YOUR HEART MY SKY is set in Cuba thirty years ago, over the summer of 1991. It was a period of scarcity and widespread hunger.

“The History of Our Hunger

Liana

According to legends told by old folks,

this is how emptiness swallowed us:

Nearly thirty years ago, the US refused

to trade with Cuba, so we fell into the bear hug

of Russia, until a few months ago, when suddenly

the Soviet Union began to crumble like a sandcastle,

leaving

us

abandoned.

No more subsidies, bribes, or rewards.

Now, with tourists from all over the world

due to arrive for global games, our food rations

are slashed to create an illusion of plenty

at hotel banquets, in restaurants that we

are not permitted

to enter.

My parents quietly call it tourist apartheid.

Everything for outsiders.

Nothing for islanders.”

Liana is a fourteen-year-old Cuban teen who knows some English thanks to the old dictionary hidden at the back of her mother’s cluttered bookshelf. She has just been befriended by a stray dog.

There is a young man, Amando, who is a year older than her:

Amado

I’m the only boy in this entire town

who did not go to the sugar fields

for a summer of oppressive labor.

Everyone knows it’s more mandatory

than voluntary, at least in the sense

of becoming an outcast if you refuse,

losing all privileges, forfeiting college,

losing hope for a future of education

and respect.

So I wander alone now, observing, listening,

trying to discover rare sources of food, ration lines

that lead to bread or coffee, instead of the usual

slice of aching

disappointment.

All my friends left yesterday

on flatbed army trucks, carted like cattle.

I don’t expect to see any teenagers in town,

so I’m surprised when I spot a girl I’ve noticed

many times, even though I’ve never

been brave enough to speak to her.

Close to her side, a foxlike animal

lopes casually, fearless in the presence

of hungry strangers.

Doesn’t the wild-looking dog understand

that most of us are ravenous enough

to lose our sense of guilt?

Cats have disappeared

and dogs are vanishing too,

abandoned, gone feral,

or worse--devoured, the meat

described as pork or rabbit…

No one can afford to feed a pet.

We can barely take care of ourselves.

Some would eat this creature just to fill

the agony of a hollow belly

and vanishing conscience.”

YOUR HEART MY SKY is the story of two young people in an historic era of hunger. Their quest for food is the central issue in the book. The details as to what made it so difficult for the normal Cuban to obtain sustenance in 1991 is revealed as we observe the two young people eating anything that will stay down, and scheming to obtain the seeds necessary to illegally grow food at their families’ homes.

There is a sweetness to their blooming relationship counterposed with the bitterness of the inhumane conditions that result from the island’s political-economic system.

“Amado

What do all young cubanos want to be

when we grow up

her would ask,

providing the cynical answer

himself:

Extranjeros.

Foreigners.”

The era portrayed here is eerily echoed by a present-day Cuba starvation crisis. This month, sixty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Raul Castro has stepped down as the island faces another horrific period of starvation.

“[Cuba] is in the throes of its worst economic contraction since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Painful economic reforms have sent inflation soaring. Long lines for food have again become commonplace. Trump-era sanctions have reduced access to vital economic lifelines like remittances. and a nascent but increasingly vocal social movement is channeling mounting frustration.”

-- from the Miami Herald (4/12/21)

What is the solution to Cuba’s woes? Will they eventually return to being exploited by the U.S.? Can they find the allies necessary to create a freer system while maintaining a good measure of autonomy? YOUR HEART MY SKY will prompt young readers to do some digging into Cuba’s history. For the sake of eleven-plus million Cubans, again having to fight starvation, I hope there is some resolution sooner rather than later.

YOUR HEART MY SKY enlightens readers about conditions that cause people from places like Cuba to risk their lives in order to reach the United States. I hope that Liana and Amado’s story engenders empathy and compassion for those seeking asylum at our borders and shores.

YOUR HEART MY SKY is an innocent love story that is perfect for middle schoolers.

224 pages                      978-1534464964                Ages 12 and up

Keywords:  romance, diversity, diverse books, Latino, Latina, Latinx, multicultural, social issues, social conditions, hunger, historical fiction, Latina author, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of Richie's Picks <http://richiespicks.com/http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

********

Acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells a painful, poignant story of love in a time of hunger inspired by her own family’s struggles during a dark period in Cuba’s history.

The people of Cuba are living in el período especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation.

Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retribution. Nearby, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado also refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover rare sources of food.

A chance encounter with an enigmatic dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon discover that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts—but is it enough to withstand el período especial?---from the publisher

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