90 Miles To Havana Summary

Enrique Flores-Galbis

90 Miles to Havana

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90 Miles To Havana Summary

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Set in Cuba and Florida in the 1960s, Cuban-American author Enrique Flores-Galbis’s historical children’s novel 90 Miles to Havana (2010) follows Julian, a kind and witty Cuban boy who lives with his parents and two older brothers, Alquilino and Eduardo aka “Gordo.” Following Fidel Castro’s takeover of the country during the communist revolution, Julian’s parents place all three children in an evacuation program called “Operation Pedro Pan,” sending them to a refugee camp in Miami for Cuban-exile children. However, once they arrive, the boys meet the ferocious bully, Caballo, who runs the camp. Over time, Julian uses his intelligence to outsmart the bullying behavior, save his brothers, and mount a daring escape attempt. Inspired by Flores-Galbis’s own experiences as a Pan Pedro refugee in the 1960s, 90 Miles to Havana was named a 2011 Pura Belpré Honor Book for Narrative, as well as the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Narrated in the first-person perspective by Julian, the story begins in Havana, Cuba on December 31, 1961. Nine-year-old Julian, a Cuban boy, is fishing with his father, family servant Bebo, and two older brothers, Alquilino and Gordo. Julian is kind and clever. Alquilino is calm and measured in his decision-making. Hot-tempered, Gordo likes to tease Julian about his small size but also enjoys protecting Julian from other bullies. The brothers hook the biggest marlin they have ever felt on a fishing line, believing it to be a sign of good luck. However, when Julian, who is much smaller than his brothers, fails to reel in the giant fish, he feels as if he has cursed his family with a year of bad luck. Even Julian’s brothers think he is too small to be of any use.

When they return home, they witness people screaming and throwing items out of windows into the streets. Julian’s mother explains a communist revolution is taking place under the command of Dictator Fidel Castro; the family must relocate immediately. Julian’s clever and helpful neighbor, Angelita, moves to Miami to escape the violent revolution. When a family working for the government moves into Angelita’s vacant house, Gordo pulls a prank on the family’s son. The mother of the child is so upset, she threatens to send Gordo and his brothers to a nearby work camp.

As an alternative, Julian’s mother enrolls Julian, Alquilino, and Gordo into the “Operation Pan Pedro” program, which sends Cuban-exile children to a refugee camp ninety miles away in Miami, Florida. Julian’s mother gives him her prized golden swallow pin to hide, telling Julian that she will sell it when she and Julian’s father safely arrive in the U.S.

When the boys arrive at the camp in Miami, Julian finds that Angelita and her younger brother, Pepe, have been placed inside after their parents failed to get tickets out of Cuba. The conditions are poor, the food is bad, and despite the presence of a swimming pool, Julian is forced to sleep in the bathroom. As time goes by, Julian and his brothers are homesick and worry about their parents in Cuba. Soon, the boys also discover that the big bully they attended school with, Caballo, is also present at the camp. Caballo rules the camp, continuing his bullying ways toward all of the children inside. Caballo decides who gets to visit Miami on the weekend, and vows revenge on anyone who disrespects him. During a baseball game one day, Gordo pitches two strikes at Caballo and could easily strike him out with a third. However, in order to appease Caballo, Angelita suggests Gordo throw an easy pitch for the bully to hit. Caballo hits a home run, and then demands Julian draw a trophy in his scrapbook for Caballo. Caballo threatens to hit Julian if he refuses to draw the trophy.

When Julian, Angelita, and Pepe sneak out of camp to pick tomatoes, Julian meets an inventor, Thomas, who is also a Cuban refugee. Later, Julian and the others begin playing pranks on Caballo, which leads to Caballo sending Gordo and Alquilino away to a far-off orphanage in Denver, Colorado. Fed up with Caballo, Julian leaves the camp to move in with Thomas in Miami. When he arrives at Thomas’s house, Julian learns Thomas has a plot to take a boat back to Cuba so he can bring his parents and other friends to Miami. However, Thomas’s fancy compass is stolen along with the gasoline for the boat, which leads Thomas to believe they won’t have enough fuel to make to Cuba and back. Using his wits, Julian escapes a police offer looking for him, runs to the bridge and jumps off. Julian gives Thomas his mother’s golden swallow pin to sell for fuel. Thomas promises to get the pin back for Julian as soon as he can.

Upon returning from Cuba, Julian discovers that his parents made it safely to America and now live with his uncle in Connecticut. Julian happily visits his parents in Connecticut for a few days. While in Connecticut, he receives a package in the mail. Inside the package is his mother’s golden swallow pin, with a note from Thomas saying he bought it back for Julian just as promised. In the end, Julian reunites with his family members in America, who made it safely despite all of the adventures. Julian realizes that sometimes you must sacrifice sacred personal belongings for the greater good.

Flores-Galbis was born in Havana, Cuba in 1952. When he was nine years old, his family sent him to Miami in the Operation Pan Pedro refugee program for Cuban-exile children. Flores-Galbis spent years living in New York, where he earned his MFA degree in 1992. He is currently a writer, painter, and teacher. He has written one other novel, Raining Sardines (2007).