Author visits St. Joseph Academy
On October 6, St. Joseph Academy welcomed Patti Sheehy, the author of The Boy Who Said No: An Escape to Freedom—the school-wide summer reading assignment—along with Frank Mederos, upon whose life the novel was based, at an assembly held in the Media Center at 1 p.m.
A book-signing for the students immediately followed.
Sheehy told The Gazette that The Boy Who Said No follows Mederos’s journey from his being part of Fidel Castro’s special forces to his escape from Cuba in 1967.
“He is not in favor of communism. He defects and escapes Cuba. In the meantime, 340 members of the special forces chased him around Havana for several months, and it’s a very harrowing escape. It’s an exciting adventure story—action-packed—and I’m going to talk a little bit about how we met, and how our relationship developed and how the book developed ... the genesis of the book, and how skills and values work into the narrative of the book,” Sheehy said.
Mederos told The Gazette that he and Sheehy have made more than 300 appearances to talk about the novel since it was published in 2013.
“When the COVID pandemic hit, we had to stop everything, and we had plenty of appointments at the time; we had to cancel all of those. This is going to be the first time in over a year that we’re going to do an appearance. I’m very happy to be here, and I’m grateful that they invited us to come. We’re very happy that we’re going to bring the purpose of our books to life again with all these children,” Mederos said.
During the assembly, Sheehy told the students the story of how a woman from Haddon Heights, N.J. met “a man who was in Fidel Castro’s special forces.”
“One day I was at work, and I was talking to a young woman who happened to be Frank’s daughter, and she told me that Frank had an interesting story to tell. She was looking for someone to tell it as part of her family history. I said, well, I could do that. I’m thinking that this would be four or five pages, double-spaced, and I could do it,” Sheehy said.
After a few meetings with Mederos, Sheehy realized that there was more than enough material for a novel.
“The question was, can I write a book? How do I write a book? If I write a book, will anybody be interested? If they’re interested, will it get published? If it gets published, will anyone read it? If they read it, will they like it? It was a daunting prospect, but Frank was game ... We plugged along writing the book, and then we needed to find a publisher,” Sheehy said.
At first, Sheehy said, she and Mederos received many rejections.
“Finally, a publisher came along and said that they loved the manuscript, and they understood that it was an action and adventure manuscript, and they specialized in mysteries and suspense—but they were going to take a chance on us. We got it published in 2013. We’ve been talking to groups ever since,” Sheehy said.
Mederos told those assembled that he was never a communist and did not support the actions of the government after Castro came to power in 1959.
“I didn’t know anything about the United States. I didn’t know anything about democracy, but I knew that what was happening at the time in Cuba was wrong—and that’s all it took. Then, they put me in the army in the special forces ... In the army, I met people that felt the same way I did, that didn’t belong there. The friendship was so true that they were willing to give their lives for mine, once they knew that I was ready and willing to escape Cuba,” Mederos said.
Up to that point, Mederos said, no one had escaped from Cuba by sea.
“When Cubans heard that that happened, and that it could happen, from that point on you don’t know how many people came to America. The people who helped me put the trip together told everybody there what we did,” Mederos said.
During a Q&A with the students, Mederos was asked if he has since spoken with the individuals who aided his escape.
“I don’t know where they went. Many of the people that helped me became members of the CIA later on, or in the army, and later on they became other personnel. I’m sure they know exactly where I am; I just don’t know where they are,” Mederos said.
Mederos was also asked why he chose to live in New Jersey after his arrival in the United Staes.
“When I came to Florida—the first place I landed—you couldn’t go to just anywhere. I had two choices—I could go to California or go to New Jersey; New Jersey sounded good to me. I didn’t know where New Jersey was compared to Florida; I was shocked the airplane took two hours—where were we going?—and they gave me a coat, a huge coat. I thought I was going to Alaska ... but I love New Jersey,” Mederos said.
Another student asked Mederos if he had ever returned to Cuba following his escape, to which he replied that he had, though more than 40 years later.
“In 2012—just before The Boy Who Said No—was published, I went back to Cuba,” Mederos said.
While recounting the tale that became The Boy Who Said No, Mederos advised the students that freedom “is very fragile.”
“Freedom, in our country here, is riding on your backs. You are the ones who are going to inspire freedom, and inspire the desire to be who we want to be in the future. Freedom is not for free. It requires sacrifice, dedication, it requires courage and it requires a desire to tell what you feel. Don’t allow anybody to tell you that you cannot say what you feel or do what you want to do because you’re not allowed; there’s no such thing as that. Take freedom to the limits and don’t bargain with it. That’s my mission, and that’s why I am here,” Mederos said.