86 pages 2 hours read

Enrique Flores-Galbis

90 Miles to Havana

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


The 2010 novel 90 Miles to Havana by Cuban-American author Enrique Flores-Galbis is the coming-of-age tale of Julian, a young Cuban boy who, along with his two older brothers, travels to Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s. The operation was a covert mission between Cuban and American authorities, with the help of the children’s parents, to evacuate Cuban children from the country during a time of political turmoil under new dictator Fidel Castro. The novel is a fictionalized account of Flores-Galbis and his brothers’ real journey to Miami under this same operation. 

As Julian navigates the traditional challenges of growing up, he also must learn to survive being away from his home and family. Flores-Galbis has been praised for the novel’s depiction of the often-forgotten journey of thousands of Cuban children during the tense Cold War. 90 Miles to Havana won the 2011 Pura Belpré Honor Book for Narrative, as well as the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Plot Summary

The story begins in Havana, Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1959 as young Julian and his two older brothers, Gordo and Alquilino, are fishing with their father and some neighbors. Julian is clever and stubborn with romantic notions of being a hero. His family has a tradition that says if they catch a big fish, they will have good luck the rest of the new year. Julian has the chance to catch a fish and become the hero, but he fails and believes he has cursed his family with bad luck.

When they return to land, they see people rioting in the streets to celebrate the revolution and the departure of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro has replaced him, and in the ensuing political turmoil, many families choose to flee. The government automatically labels anyone who runs a “worm.” Julian’s young neighbors, Angelita and Pepe, leave, and the government seals their house with an important piece of Julian’s mother’s jewelry inside. The boys illegally sneak in to save it, and a government woman threatens to send them to a government camp for kids.

To avoid this, the boys’ mother sends them to America as part of the Pedro Pan operation. The boys land 90 miles away in Miami and are placed in a refugee camp, where they find Angelita and Pepe have been staying. They also see that a ruthless teenager and former classmate, Caballo, runs the camp. He tortures the boys and eventually gets Gordo and Alquilino sent to an orphanage in Denver.

Without his brothers, Julian must deal with Caballo alone, and he eventually starts a camp revolution supported by Angelita, Pepe, and other camp kids. Julian runs away in the aftermath and stays with Tomas, a fellow Cuban refugee who lives on a boat. Julian helps Tomas fix his boat, and eventually, they travel to Havana for a secret rescue mission to save Tomas’s parents. Julian tries to save his parents, too, but he later learns that his mother has fled to Connecticut with an uncle and is waiting for Julian there. After the exciting rescue, Julian becomes a hero and reunites with his mother and brothers in Connecticut to await the arrival of their father.

Related Titles

By Enrique Flores-Galbis