by Margarita Engle
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
"I find it so easy to forget / that I'm just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts." Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Verse novels are one of my favourite discoveries of the past few years. Historical fiction seems to lend itself well to this style of writing, which is probably why so many of the verse novels I've read have been set in the past. This book is no exception. It's about a real girl, an early feminist and abolitionist, who lived in Cuba and helped change attitudes about slavery and marriage.
This book was beautifully written. I kept highlighting passages as I read, ones that struck me as particularly beautiful or meaningful. Tula's voice really comes across on the page, illuminating a life in 1820s Cuba that may be unfamiliar to most readers of YA fiction. I bristled against the 19th-century attitudes that drove her mother and grandfather to want to sell her off like a piece of property, rather than letting her choose her own husband. Her mother, in particular, was infuriating. She'd married for love, and then seemed to think that it was up to her daughter to bring wealth back into the family with an arranged marriage!
My only real complaint with this book was the changing points of view. While most of the "chapters" are told from Tula's point of view, there are a few throughout the book from various other characters. While I don't have a problem with that in theory, in practice it seemed a little bit odd because there was no difference between the characters' voices. For example, Caridad (the family's housekeeper) spoke just as eloquently in flowery language as Tula did... and Caridad was supposed to be an illiterate former slave. But this is a minor quibble and doesn't detract that much from the story.
The historical notes at the end of the book are just as fascinating as the main story itself. Tula had a very interesting life, one that was probably quite different from many women's lives at that time. All in all, this is a beautifully written verse novel that should appeal to fans of historical fiction.
Overall: 4.14 out of 5