Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez – Reading Guide
questions and discussion topics
1. Throughout the book, Anita looks to her mother to judge the situation at the compound. her mother often shifts focus from her to anita: she sometimes treats her like an adult, sometimes like a child. Why do you think Anita’s mother does that? How does Anita react and how do you think she would like to be treated? Do you think she is old enough to hear the truth, or should her mother protect her more?
2. At the beginning of the book, Anita’s extended family suddenly flees the country, leaving behind only Anita and his immediate family. the family lives in a compound and is very close. What role does the family, immediate and extended, play in this book? Does Anita realize that not everyone has the relationship her family experiences?
3. Anita is at a stage in her life where questioning authority becomes commonplace. In this book, there are several different authority figures forcing her to behave in a certain way, such as the government, the opposition army, and her family. How does she deal with this authority? how do you get around some of the rules?
4. Anita and her sister have a typical relationship that most readers can understand. Does this attitude towards others represent a determination to maintain a certain level of normalcy in a very frightening and often dangerous situation? How do the attitudes of both of them change once the quinceañera is celebrated?
5. discuss the importance of the compound in this book, specifically the loss of the family’s freedom to walk out the doors, as well as areas within the compound that were off limits.
6. To protect the rest of the family, Anita’s father and the group leading the opposition talk outside the house, not realizing that Anita’s window is right next to their meeting place. How did listening to these conversations affect Anita? Do you think it was better that she knew the truth or did the whole situation make her grow up faster than it needed to?
7. After the compound becomes unsafe for Anita and her family, Anita and her mother secretly move into a safe house and live in a closet. Compare this experience with historical events that led people to go into hiding, be detained because of their beliefs or nationalities, and receive death threats. Is there a particular person that reminds you of?
8. Anita befriends an American boy, Sam. At her tender age of 12, she is torn between her childhood view of the world and her adult emotions. How does her ever-changing view of her life affect her relationship with Sam and her friend Oscar, who is from her country?
9. What role does American culture play in this novel? Specifically, discuss the quinceañera and sweet sixteen rites of passage and the idea of Anita and her family recognizing American holidays such as Thanksgiving.
10. At the end of the novel, Anita has lost part of her family to violence in his home country. How does she feel about the sacrifice her family had to make? Do you really understand the impact that her family had on the history of your country?