August 11, 2021 7:36 AM EDT

Julia Alvarez made a name for herself in the literary community with her critically acclaimed 1991 novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which drew inspiration from her own family’s migration from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. With Before We Were Free, a coming-of-age tale published in 2002, Alvarez takes readers to the country that she knew as a young girl. The historical-fiction book centers on Anita de la Torre. Anita is 12 years old and living under the bloody reign of Rafael Trujillo, the real-world dictator who controlled the Dominican Republic until his assasination in 1961. As Anita bears witness to disturbing cultural shifts under Trujillo, she discovers her own family is part of a dangerous underground resistance against the government. With this knowledge, she finds parallels between her own burgeoning womanhood, her personal desire for freedom and the struggles of her oppressed country. —Cady Lang

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