Review: The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle

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Hardcover, 182 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher

“I envy the trees that grow at crossroads. They are never forced to decide which way to go…”

I reviewed another book by Margarita Engle this year, The Poet Slave, which, too, discussed slavery in Cuba from a slave’s perspective. In The Lightning Dreamer slavery is explored once again but this time it is from a relatively privileged perspective, that of a woman or girl as she is when we meet her: Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda or Tula as she otherwise known.

Because she is a woman, her mother disapproves of her learning, reading, and writing and thinks that Tula’s only purpose is to get married to a wealthy man who will ensure that her mother and the rest of her family continue living their comfortable lives. However, Tula cannot reconcile herself to this fate and refuses all arrangements/suitors her mother arranges. She is sent to languish at her grandfather’s estate and there her burgeoning feelings about the unfairness of slavery and slaves peak. She uses her writing to air her views on abolition of slavery and while the book does not go into too much depth or detail about the consequences of her writing enough is said to leave the readers with a glimpse into the life of this remarkable woman.

The Lightning Dreamer is an important book, especially in classrooms as it provides teachers and students with a new way of exploring slavery and culture. It brings cultural issues to the forefront and with the strength of the verse behind it, allows discussion of heavier topics without overwhelming the young reader. The book can also function as a springboard from which to launch a greater research project into slavery and how it has shaped human societies.

The Lightning Dreamer is, ultimately, an uplifting story about a woman’s courage to speak out against what she didn’t believe in and to stand up for what she did believe in. I recommend it.

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