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The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist Hardcover – March 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Engle’s historical novel in verse is a fictionalized biography of the nineteenth-century Cuban abolitionist poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Told in multiple voices, Engle’s elegant verses, rich in simile and metaphor, focus on the poet’s life as a teenager. Forbidden access to books because her mother believes reading and writing make women unattractive, Tula escapes to a nearby convent. There, she discovers volumes by the rebel poet José María de Heredia, whose words feed her own rebellious spirit, which is exemplified by her rejection of two arranged marriages. I long to write like Heredia, she muses, but what do I know of great cities and the wide lives of men? I’m just a silenced girl. My stories are simple tales of emotion. Seen as an outcast and a madwoman, she is sent to the country, where she falls in love with Sab, a freed slave, and continues to write about equality for slaves and for women. Engle’s richly evocative verses conjure up a time when women, like slaves, were regarded as property to be sold into loveless marriages. 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. Grades 7-12, --Michael Cart

Review

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
 

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547807430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547807430
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the PEN USA Award.

Engle's most recent books are Orangutanka, Drum Dream Girl, The Sky Painter, and Enchanted Air. All of these books are to be released in 2015. For news and updates, visit http://margaritaengle.com/

She lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle is both a collection of poems about, and a retelling of the history, of Gertrudis Gomez de Avelleneda, known also as Tula. Tula was raised in Cuba in the early 19th century. Her mother sought to marry Tula off to a rich man and to keep Tula from becoming educated. Instead Tula wrote poetry and novels championing abolition, women's rights and interracial unity. Margarita Engle has created a suite of poems in the voice of, and in celebration of, this remarkable woman. The poems are simple and straightforward. They tell Tula's troubles, her outrage at slavery and her fierce independence. The poems are in many voices ranging from Tula's own to the freed slave who was a cook in her home to those who inspired her. This is a remarkable book, particularly for any young Latina, and is highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ChristineMM TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Written for readers age 12 and up, this historical fiction biography about Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda begins in 1827 in Cuba. I knew nothing about her until I began reading the book, grew curious, so stopped and did some Internet research before returning to savor THE LIGHTNING DREAMER.

Told entirely in free verse poetry with most poems being one page long (and double spaced) written in the first person from different people's perspectives was an approachable way to convey a lot of opinions and issues of the day in under 175 pages. The poems were easy to understand and the opinions clearly show that Gertrudis Gomez de Avelleneda was ahead of her time yet fit in well with the views in America today so are easily accepted and relatable to today's teens. The work lay in explaining what societal norms were in Cuba back then regarding the role of women, the silencing of women's opinions and the fact that they could not vote or have a voice in the community, about arranged marriages where the girl was essentially bought by the husband-to-be, slavery and racial relations with black slaves, children born out of wedlock (many biracial) and left at a Catholic orphanage and inter-racial romantic relationships.

Most of the book focuses on her early teen years and avoiding one arrange marriage, issues of feeling constricted due to the lack of women's rights including not being able to be formally schooled and being pressured to not write or dicuss her opinions. It included her work with orphans and poetry writing, and a close relationship with their freed slave cook. The book then has a section that is fictionalized the most about Sab, a black man who she loved but could not have because he loved another. I felt that is where the book started to feel weak.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Elaine Campbell on June 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book for young adults is an attempt to fuse two concepts: firstly, a fictional biography (but only partly fictional) and second a biography written in terse verse.

Neither in my estimation succeeds. The first half of the book is by far the more interesting although the verse tends to be repetitious and the descriptions reiterative. The biographical materials seem to be more non-fictional, therefore believable.

The second half of the book seems to become almost wholly fictional - and not so believable. Having read a biograpghical sketch of Gertrudes Gomez de Avellaneda in an encyclopedia, I wondered why the last part of her life needed to be fictional when it was indeed as interesting true to life as her youth. Perhaps because it was not ideal reading for young adults.

I have not read other books by the author but I trust by the awards she has achieved that she is talented and highly skilled. I can only say this is not one of her better efforts in my estimation.
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Format: Hardcover
I have never been disappointed by one of Margarita Engle’s books and The Lightning Dreamer is no exception. It’s the fascinating true story of a Cuban woman who worked both for the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women. My guess is that many of you have never heard of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellanda, I certainly hadn’t. Engle’s ability to bring to life these lesser known but incredibly important historical characters is part of what makes her work so significant. Her novels in verse make historical characters like Tula accessible and real to younger readers.
In writing this review, I was reminded of my obsession with biographies when I was in elementary school. When I was eight years old I decided that I was going to read every biography in my school’s library. Our biographies were shelved alphabetically by the name of the person the book was about. When I think about the books that I read then, I remember a number of books about Davy Crockett, Grover Cleveland and Amelia Earhart. Obviously, I didn’t make it all the way through, it would seem I stopped somewhere around E. But in thinking back, I’m struck by the lack of diversity in the people represented on my library’s shelves. I can only hope that with the availability of books like that of Engle things aren’t the same now. If books such as The Lightning Dreamer, The Surrender Tree, or Hurricane Dancers had been available to me then, I may have made it past E in my quest to read all those biographies.

In telling the story of Tula, Engle’s book opens up a number of relevant topics for classroom discussion. As Tula becomes increasingly aware of the disparities in society, she begins to both ponder and write about things such as slavery, interracial marriage, and women’s rights.
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