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Before We Were Free
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Before We Were Free

Written by Julia AlvarezAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Julia Alvarez


· Laurel Leaf
· Paperback · April 13, 2004 · $6.99 · 978-0-440-23784-6 (0-440-23784-X)
Also available as an unabridged audiobook download and an eBook.

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Readers Guide

1. Throughout the book, Anita watches her mother to judge the situation in the compound. Without any direct source of information, this is the only way she can try to figure out what is going on. Has there ever been a time when you’ve needed to watch someone else’s reaction, or interpret their behavior, to understand a situation?

2. Alvarez writes in the first person, and at points in the form of entries in Anita’s diary. Why do you think she chooses this perspective? How does it affect your reading of the book?

3. Anita’s mother often changes her approach to Anita–sometimes treating her as an adult, sometimes as a child. Why do you think she does that? Is Anita old enough to hear the truth? How much would you tell a small child in a situation like this, and why?

4. During the earlier stages of the story, Anita is sheltered in her family compound and doesn’t seem to realize the severity of the political situation in her country. When she learns the truth, she’s surprised. Do you think children are often oblivious to the larger reality around them? As you’ve aged, how have your perceptions and feelings about your government, society, and the world changed? Do you wish you’d known more–or less–as a young child?

5. Anita is at a stage in life when questioning authority becomes common. In this book, several authority figures–the government, the opposition army, her family–force her to behave in certain ways. What are the different ways in which she deals with these authorities? How does she get around some of the rules? Think about the different authorities in your life–which of them matter the most? Do you have different ways of handling each?

6. Anita befriends an American boy, Sam. At the age of twelve, she feels divided between a more innocent view of the world and her increasingly adult perspective. How does her ever-changing view of life affect her relationship with Sam and with her friend Oscar, who comes from her country? Look back on some earlier romances or problems in your own life–how do they seem to you now? Do you still think about them? If your attitudes have altered, what caused the change?

7. What role does American culture play in this novel? Why do you think Anita and her family recognize American holidays, such as Thanksgiving? How does the Dominican quinceañera compare to the American “Sweet Sixteen” tradition? In what ways have traditions from different places or cultures mixed in your life?

8. Is this the first time you have ever read about the political history of the Dominican Republic? Have you learned much about South America or Central America in school or from the media? Why do you think certain histories and regions get more or less attention in schools and the media? Who makes those decisions, and what problems do they present? What can you do about this?

9. Anita’s family takes great risks and plans serious action in their fight against the dictatorship. What do you think of the actions taken, especially the assassination of the dictator? How do we decide what is ethical or moral under circumstances like these? Think about a political act or an international conflict in your own time. What questions were asked–or should have been asked–before it was undertaken? Have there ever been certain ethical questions or feelings that made you “think twice” about a conflict in your own life?

10. At the end of the novel, Anita has lost some of her family to the violence in her native country. How does she feel about the sacrifice her family has had to make? Do you think she truly understands the impact her family has had on her country’s history? Has your own life or the lives of those you love been affected by violence (think about terrorism, war, crime, domestic violence)?