The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

by Margarita Engle
     
 

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“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 Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate,

Overview


“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 Gómez 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A Pura Belpré Honor Book
Winner of the 2014 PEN Literary Award for Best Young Adult Book
VOYA Top Shelf for Middle School Readers 2013 list
2014 International Latino Book Award Honorable Mention
An NCTE Notable Book for the Language Arts
An ALSC Notable Children's Book for 2013
YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults


• "This is the context for a splendid novel that celebrates one brave woman who rejected a constrained existence with enduring words that continue to sing of freedom."
Booklist, starred review

"An inspiring fictionalized verse biography of one of Cuba's most influential writers. . . . Fiery and engaging, a powerful portrait of the liberating power of art."
Kirkus

"In these poems, their longings for freedom, their fears, their loves, and their heartaches are elegantly crafted through images that make the island of Cuba and its people vividly real and connect them to the hearts of contemporary readers."
Bulletin

"A quick and powerful read worthy of addition to any collection. The verses speak of tolerance and acceptance beyond the context of this story."
VOYA

"Engle adds another superb title to her lengthening list of historical novels in verse. . . . This is a must-have for . . . anyone in need of a comparative study to our own country's struggle with slavery."
—School Library Journal
 

VOYA - Shana Morales
The Lightning Dreamer is the story of Tula, the childhood nickname of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, a nineteenth-century Cuban writer, abolitionist, and feminist. Using verse, Engle crafts Tula's story. The poems rotate perspectives between Tula and the people in her life, beginning in 1827, when she was just thirteen, and concluding in 1836. Readers follow her discovery of rebel poetry and those who assist in her dangerous and secret passion: reading. From a young age, Tula is a feminist and abolitionist plagued with thoughts of being married off in exchange for slaves. Her brother secretly passed on his books, paper, and pen, inspired by Tula's independence. Throughout the book, Tula evolves from a girl who sees "forced marriage" and a "loveless wedding" in her future to a young woman who sees love as "Ancient. A legend. The truth." This is a unique piece of literature—historical fiction about a historical figure written in verse through imagined perspectives. Complete with a historical background, notes, and references, The Lightning Dreamer is a quick and powerful read worthy of addition to any collection. The verses speak of tolerance and acceptance beyond the context of this story. At its core, though, it is a story about the nineteenth-century, Cuban culture, folk heroes, and women's rights. Reviewer: Shana Morales
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Engle's historical fiction novel in free verse introduces readers to Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, a Cuban author, feminist, and antislavery activist in the 1800s who rebelled against her mother's resistance to girls' reading and writing as well as her insistence on a forced marriage to increase the family's wealth. Tula (Avellaneda's nickname), a gifted storyteller is thirteen when the story begins. She is allowed to visit the nearby convent for lessons in embroidery and the saints; while there, she spends time reading in the convent library. "Each day, after my lessons, the nuns/let me visit their marvelous library,/where I feel as if I have entered/heaven on earth." There she first reads the poems of the Cuban rebel poet Jose Maria Heredia, which fuel her determination to fight injustice of all types through her poetry and plays. "I long to write like Heredia,/ but what do I know of great cities/and the wide lives of men?/...I'm just a silenced girl." After refusing to be part of two arranged marriages by the age of 15, she is sent to live with her grandfather and then her uncle in the country. While her uncle travels, Tula "dare[s] to explore the mansion./ ...For the first time in my life,/I've been released from the walls/that trap women." Tula's story is mostly told through her own voice, but others, including those of Mama, the former slave and cook Caridad, the nuns, her loyal ally and brother Manuel, are interspersed throughout. They add perspective to her musings as they describe their own fears, longings, and heartaches. Engle has loosely based much of the novel on Avellaneda's semi-autobiographical romantic novel "Sab," published in 1841. Telling Tula's story in lyrical free verse makes such sense, as she is known for her poetry as well as her novels. Engle captures not only somewhat typical teenage angst, but also her spirit and the origin of her life as a well-known feminist and abolitionist. A quick read, the book will inspire readers to be more tolerant while introducing them to a little known female poet. It would be of great value in literature, social studies, or women's rights units. Historical notes, samples of both Avellaneda's and Heredia's poems, and sources are included. Reviewer: Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—Engle has produced a fabulous work of historical fiction about Cuban poet, author, antislavery activist and feminist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Written in free verse, the story tells of how Tula, which was her childhood nickname, grows up in libraries, which she calls "a safe place to heal/and dream…," influenced by the poetry of José María Heredia. In Tula's voice, Engle writes, "Books are door shaped/portals/carrying me/across oceans/and centuries,/helping me feel/less alone." She takes elements from Avellaneda's novel Sab, which is believed to be autobiographical, and creates a portrait of a girl "expected/to live/without thoughts" who will not be forced into an arranged marriage, and who falls in love with a man who wants her to marry the suitor of the woman he has always loved. Tula speaks out against slavery and arranged marriages, finding them both a form of imprisonment. Engle inhabits the voices of various characters from the story, including Avellaneda's mother, who loses her inheritance because of Tula's refusal to accept an arranged marriage, and who ultimately banishes her to live with an uncle.I have always been a little leery of novels in verse because, if there is no artistic reason for the story to take that format, the verse form seems to be little more than a gimmick. Engle is writing historical fiction about a real Cuban poet, and she convinces readers that the story couldn't be told any other way.Activity Ideas: This book is ideal for literature units and can be used across the curriculum. Students can read this as an entry point to the history of Cuba, the issues of slavery and feminism, and Avellaneda's prose and poetry itself. Engle's book lends itself to teaching, and her appendix includes a bibliography of titles that kids will want to explore and research.
Kirkus Reviews
An inspiring fictionalized verse biography of one of Cuba's most influential writers. Newbery Honor–winning Engle (The Surrender Tree, 2008) here imagines the youth of Cuban-born Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-73), a major 19th-century writer who was an abolitionist and feminist opposed to all forms of slavery, including arranged marriage. From Sab, her subject's 1841 abolitionist novel, Engle loosely deduces her artistic development, not only including the two arranged marriages she refused in real life, but the budding writer's struggles at home. There, "Tula" was subjected to the discriminatory views of her mother and grandfather, who sought to educate her only in the domestic arts since, according to Mamá, "Everyone knows that girls / who read and write too much / are unattractive." Denied the education her brother received, Tula laments, "I'm just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts." Engle's clear, declarative verse animates the impassioned voice of Tula as well as other major figures in her life--her sympathetic brother, Manuel, the orphans she comes to love and entertain with grand plays meshing themes of autonomy and racial equality, and her family's housekeeper, Caridad, a former slave who is eventually inspired by Tula's wild tales of true emancipation to leave her confining situation. Fiery and engaging, a powerful portrait of the liberating power of art. (historical note, translated excerpts from Avellaneda's work, bibliography) (Historical fiction/verse. 12 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547807430
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
03/19/2013
Pages:
182
Sales rank:
765,276
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile:
1070L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This is the context for a splendid novel that celebrates one brave woman who rejected a constrained existence with enduring words that continue to sing of freedom."
Booklist starred review

Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her many acclaimed books include Silver People, The Lightning Dreamer, The Wild Book, and The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book. She is a several-time winner of the Pura Belpré and Américas awards, as well as other prestigious honors. She lives with her husband in Northern California. For more information, visit www.margaritaengle.com.

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