The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist

By Margarita Engle
Harcourt • 2013 • 192 pages
Hardcover ($16.99)
ISBN: 978-0-547-80743-0
Ages 12 and up

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was ahead of her times in many ways. A young member of the wealthy class of Cuba in the 1820s, she was expected to do just one thing well: marry. But “Tula,” as she was called, had a different set of aspirations. She loved stories, learned to read, composed verses and plays, and eventually discovered the library at the local convent where she was sent to learn embroidery and hear about saints’ lives. There, too, she found the verses of José María Heredia, a poet for liberty and equality.  His words gave voice to Tula’s concerns about slavery and the unequal state of women. They empowered her to refuse the marriage her family had arranged, leave the countryside for Havana and eventually Europe, and write her own poems and plays.

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Engle captures the voice and passion of this forward thinking young girl in an affecting and artfully simple prose poem. Teenagers are the most intense of creatures—everything is deeply felt and immediate to them. Tula’s self-determination, along with her desire to free her family’s slave and, indeed, herself, will surely resonate with young readers. Those not yet acquainted with this poet of liberation may very well become inspired to find her original works with the help of Engle’s afterword. An engaging read not only to those of Cuban heritage, but to all families considering the perennial teenage themes of acceptance and freedom.

Reviewed by Ann Welton, Library Media Specialist, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA