Lucky Broken Girl

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A Time of Angels Book CoverWhat the Book is About:

10-year-old Ruthie and her family are Jewish-Cuban immigrants who emigrate to the United States when Castro comes to power. Soon afterwards, a car accident leaves Ruthie in a body cast for a year. Ruthie’s fears that she will never walk again, her good friend’s awkwardness with her illness, and Ruthie’s struggles to keep her own spirits up add depth and complexity to this beautifully written book, which is based on the author’s childhood and gives a fascinating glimpse into the world of Jewish-Cuban immigrant life in 1960s New York.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Ruthie’s Jewish-Cuban family is Jewishly diverse, with a Polish Bubba and Zeide and Ladino-speaking grandparents who were originally from Turkey and Spain. Ruthie’s friend Danielle’s mother immigrated to the United States from Belgium but is originally from Morocco and speaks English, French, and Arabic.
  • The family observes some Jewish festivals and rituals: there are references to challah, matzo, and avoiding pork.
  • Ruthie is a spiritual and introspective character and prays to “the God of her forefathers.”
  • When Ruthie is bedridden for a year, she shows inner strength (gevurah) and perseverance (hatmadah) to keep her spirits up.

Positive Role Models

  • Ruthie displays incredible strength in facing the challenges of her situation. She discovers the joys of art and writing, and faces her fears with determination and patience.
  • Chicho, the young man who lives down the hall, is kind to Ruthie, seeing her as a person and not a patient. He has picnics with Ruthie in her room, teaches her to paint and brings her art supplies and a special easel so that she can draw and paint in bed.
  • Joy is the teacher sent to home-school Ruthie. She understands that Ruthie is an intelligent and sensitive person and speaks to her on that level. She aids Ruthie’s intellectual development by introducing her to literature and important historical figures. She also gives Ruthie hope that she will fully recover.  

Content Advisory

This poignant coming-of-age story deals with some challenging topics, including disability, mother-daughter conflict and death. Ruthie’s mother resents that she has been thrust into the role of care taker and is at times unsympathetic and unkind to Ruthie. Elsewhere, in a disturbing scene, the younger brother of Ruthie’s friend Ramu falls out the window and dies. The scene is not described in vivid detail, but is very sad. Finally, Ruthie pours her heart out to give herself courage, writing for help not just to God, but to anyone else she thinks might help, including the painter Frida Kahlo and the Hindu god Shiva, of whom her Indian friend gives her a charm as a keepsake when he moves away.

Talk it Over

Do any of your friends have a disability or a serious illness? Can you think of some good ways to keep a bedridden friend’s spirits up?

More For You

When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the vast majority of the island’s 15,000-strong Jewish community emigrated to the United States. Only around 1,000 remain there today. Castro himself admitted that he had Jewish roots that date back to the Spanish Inquisition, but many believe that his Jewish heritage was much more recent: his own daughter has said that his grandfather was Jewish and came from a family of Turkish rabbis. After religious practice was once again permitted in the 1990s, the small Cuban Jewish community began to revive. Today there are 13 synagogues and a kosher butcher on the island.