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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, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the “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.


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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, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the “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.

30 review for The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Camie

    This is a very short but beautiful YA book written completely in verse and dedicated to "Young poets who are in search of words " Margarita Engle has written a fictional account based on the true story of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda, ( Tula) a 14 year old girl from the nineteenth century living in the Spanish colony of Cuba who had the courage to speak out with words disguised as poetry and metaphor against slavery, the common custom which forced 14 year old girls to marry wealthy older men in This is a very short but beautiful YA book written completely in verse and dedicated to "Young poets who are in search of words " Margarita Engle has written a fictional account based on the true story of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda, ( Tula) a 14 year old girl from the nineteenth century living in the Spanish colony of Cuba who had the courage to speak out with words disguised as poetry and metaphor against slavery, the common custom which forced 14 year old girls to marry wealthy older men in order to increase the family's wealth and status ( which she refused to do, twice) , the right for girls to be allowed to read, and racism of any kind. Tula wrote two books of poetry about these subjects, as well as that of of unrequited love ( caused by arranged marriages) which were banned in Cuba but allowed in Spain where she lived the latter part of her life. If you are one who highlights books you will hard pressed as to which verses to choose. "The Slave let his mind fly free, and his thoughts soared higher than the clouds where lightening forms." Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda. 5 stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    *This review contains quotes from the book, but NO SPOILERS.* “Books are door-shaped Portals Carrying me Across oceans And centuries, Helping me feel Less alone. But my mother believes That girls who read too much Are unladylike And ugly, So my father’s books are locked In a clear glass cabinet. I gaze At enticing covers And mysterious titles, But I am rarely permitted To touch The enchantment Of words. When Caridad and I peer Through the bars of a window, We see weary slave girls trudging Along the rough cobbleston *This review contains quotes from the book, but NO SPOILERS.* “Books are door-shaped Portals Carrying me Across oceans And centuries, Helping me feel Less alone. But my mother believes That girls who read too much Are unladylike And ugly, So my father’s books are locked In a clear glass cabinet. I gaze At enticing covers And mysterious titles, But I am rarely permitted To touch The enchantment Of words. When Caridad and I peer Through the bars of a window, We see weary slave girls trudging Along the rough cobblestone street, With enormous baskets Of pineapples and coconuts Balanced on their heads. Sometimes I feel as if I can trade my thoughts For theirs. Are we really So different, with our heavy Array of visible And invisible Burdens?” So begins the true story of Tula, a courageous 13-year-old girl who lived in Cuba and grew up to be an abolitionist, told in lyrical verse. In Cuba during early 19th century a person could not speak out against slavery like one could in the U.S. Engle writes that “censorship was hard and penalties were severe. The most daring abolitionists were poets who could veil their work with metaphors.” So that a 13-year-old girl was writing and reading poetry that expressed different views than expected was an enormous deal. Tula was forbidden to read by her mother from an early age, but thanks to her father, learned to love it while he was still alive. Later finds solace in the library at the convent where she receives lessons on saints, as the nuns are allowed to read books that women outside of the church are not. Tula is getting ready to be married off to someone she does not know or love because it is custom, just as it is custom for girls to be uneducated. Tula explains to her mother she doesn’t wish to be traded off for gold, but her mother doesn’t understand why Tula is more interested in books than in ball gowns and popping out babies. She is worried that no man will want a woman who reads and is full of opinions. But Tula doesn’t want to “marry a bank account instead of a human.” So anyways, Tula begins writing poetry when her father dies. It is her hidden outlet in her oppressive world. In the convent library, Tula discovers the work of Jose Maria Heredia, a rebel poet, who inspires her to bravely resist her arranged marriage and to fight against slavery and injustice in Cuba. Tula writes, “I have discovered injustice But what good is a witness Who cannot testify?” To me, that one stanza is full of so much raw emotional energy and is such a powerful testament to the obstacles that lie in Tula’s path. This stanza is by the nuns at the convent to Tula: “So many people Have not yet learned That souls have no color And can never Be owned.” Tula is distressed after she sees a woman leave her baby at the doorstep just because his skin is brown. The nuns tell her that most of the “orphans” there are not orphans at all, but merely discarded because some people haven’t learned everyone is worth loving equally. The Lightning Dreamer is a powerful and mesmerizing story. The verse flows smoothly and is never jarring. It is told mostly from Tula’s point of view, but also from the perspectives of her younger brother, Manuel, their Mama, their cook, Caridad, and Sab, a freed slave of mixed heritage that Tula meets at an underground poetry reading. It is interesting to have the different perspectives and Engle pulls it off beautifully with seamless transitions that keep the story flowing in the same verse yet are obviously different voices. It was very impressive. Overall, a moving account of Tula’s story and I actually, ASTONISHINGLY for me!, wished the book were longer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Subtitle: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. This piece of historical fiction is told entirely in verse, the medium which Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (a/k/a Tula) chose to voice her opinions on slavery and women’s rights. Engle gives us some insight into the conflicting thoughts and feelings of the young Tula as she approaches the age when young girls are given in marriage – or, as she puts it “sold to a stranger to ensure the family’s fortunes.” Her refusal to bow to this tradition earns her the s Subtitle: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. This piece of historical fiction is told entirely in verse, the medium which Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (a/k/a Tula) chose to voice her opinions on slavery and women’s rights. Engle gives us some insight into the conflicting thoughts and feelings of the young Tula as she approaches the age when young girls are given in marriage – or, as she puts it “sold to a stranger to ensure the family’s fortunes.” Her refusal to bow to this tradition earns her the scorn and ridicule of her mother and peers, and banishment to her grandfather’s plantation. She often expresses how she feels almost as enslaved as the slaves her family has to do their work. Engle’s poetry is moving and elegant; I marvel that she can convey so much in so few words. At the end of the novel she includes some historical background on Gertrudis, as well as some of her original poetry (in Spanish, with translation). I highly recommend this for everyone, but especially for young women.

  4. 4 out of 5

    The Dusty Jacket

    In a country where both men and words are closely guarded, it is the poet who proved to be the boldest and most daring abolitionist. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (nicknamed Tula) is thirteen and enjoying her last year of personal freedom in Cuba. When she turns fourteen, she will be sold into matrimony to the highest bidder and her mother will use the proceeds from her marriage to buy more slaves. Tula abhors slavery and often feels enslaved herself by a society that denies her an education, th In a country where both men and words are closely guarded, it is the poet who proved to be the boldest and most daring abolitionist. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (nicknamed Tula) is thirteen and enjoying her last year of personal freedom in Cuba. When she turns fourteen, she will be sold into matrimony to the highest bidder and her mother will use the proceeds from her marriage to buy more slaves. Tula abhors slavery and often feels enslaved herself by a society that denies her an education, the right to vote, or the freedom to choose when and whom she will marry. But Tula suddenly finds light in her dark world when she discovers the convent’s library. Here, in a dusty corner, lies forbidden words of hope, rebellion, and the promise of freedom from a rebel-poet by the name of José Mariá Heredia. "The Lightning Dreamer" is a work of historical fiction and is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, a poet and playwright known as one of the world’s most influential female writers. Written entirely in free verse, this story switches between numerous points of view to allow the reader to see firsthand the profound and unimagined impact that poetry has on its audience. Engle’s work is stunningly vibrant and beautiful and conveys an expansive range of emotions with just a few carefully chosen words. For example, we experience Tula’s heartbreak as she finally resigns herself to a life devoid of freedom and choices: “During those times,/ I find it easy to forget/ that I’m just a girl who is expected/ to live/ without thoughts.” The nuns at the convent see Tula torn between two worlds and offer her the only comfort they can: “In a mother’s eyes,/ she can be only/ a monster of defiance/ or an angel of obedience,/ nothing/ in between.//So, we send her to the library,/ a safe place to heal/ and dream…” During her lifetime, Avellaneda fought for racial and gender equality and although her ideas were considered shocking at the time, her vision was eventually accepted and Cuban slaves gained their freedom, schools became integrated, and young girls were able to enter into marriage voluntarily and for love. Tula once said, “Books are door-shaped portals carrying me across oceans and centuries, helping me feel less alone.” Engle reminds us of the power behind the written word and the hope, promise, and escape those words offer when nestled between the covers of a book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Athena Archeron

    "I think of my feather pen as something magical that still belongs to a wing. All I need is paper, ink and the courage to let wild wings soar." "So many people have not yet learned that souls have no color and can never be owned." The Lightning Dreamer tells the story of a young girl who finds poetry as a way to rebel against an arranged marriage, fight for freedom, and slander the institution of slavery. The way the story is told is beautiful. The author has a way with words, arranging her poems "I think of my feather pen as something magical that still belongs to a wing. All I need is paper, ink and the courage to let wild wings soar." "So many people have not yet learned that souls have no color and can never be owned." The Lightning Dreamer tells the story of a young girl who finds poetry as a way to rebel against an arranged marriage, fight for freedom, and slander the institution of slavery. The way the story is told is beautiful. The author has a way with words, arranging her poems so that their design on the page means something. The way each character was portrayed was brilliant, each adopting a different voice when they spoke through the pages, either as a collective group or as a singular person. This book manages to fight against the historical injustice of yesterday while still echoing into the 21st century. A relatively quick read, I could not put it down once I had opened the first page. The only problem I had with the story was the fourth part, which I found to be disjointed and rushed. Overall, I really enjoyed the Lightning Dreamer, and plan to pick up other novels in verse in the future.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christi Tulenko

    A short little novel, beautifully written in poetic verse. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist is a fictionalized biography of Cuban abolitionist, Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda (nicknamed Tula). The story begins in Cuba in 1827 and focuses on Tula’s life as a teenager where she struggles to understand slavery, the practice of forced marriages, the oppression of women, and the denial of an education for girls (all considered the social norm). In a convent library (where she goes fo A short little novel, beautifully written in poetic verse. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist is a fictionalized biography of Cuban abolitionist, Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda (nicknamed Tula). The story begins in Cuba in 1827 and focuses on Tula’s life as a teenager where she struggles to understand slavery, the practice of forced marriages, the oppression of women, and the denial of an education for girls (all considered the social norm). In a convent library (where she goes for embroidery lessons), Tula discovers the banned books of Cuban rebel poet,José María Heredia. The poems inspire Tula to write of the injustices around her. Tula became a poet, a novelist, a feminist, and an abolitionist, and was brave enough to speak up for those who could not. I loved this book in verse.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Arya

    I liked this book. I liked learning about Tula and I'm really looking forward to read some more detailed books about her in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    The Lightning Dreamer is a beautifully written book-in-verse about the life of a young girl growing up in Cuba. Tula is a girl who is more enamored with books than she is with boys which would be fine in the United States, however, she does not live there. When Tula becomes fourteen, her parents expect her to marry to better not only her station in life but theirs as well. But Tula wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage and spends much of her time expressing her opinions on freedom for wo The Lightning Dreamer is a beautifully written book-in-verse about the life of a young girl growing up in Cuba. Tula is a girl who is more enamored with books than she is with boys which would be fine in the United States, however, she does not live there. When Tula becomes fourteen, her parents expect her to marry to better not only her station in life but theirs as well. But Tula wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage and spends much of her time expressing her opinions on freedom for women to friends and even her family’s helpers. She is fueling a fire which has been brewing for years but Tula’s words seem to motivate many to take action. Before beginning this book, I noticed it was written by Newbery Award Winning author, Margarita Engle, so my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. When I read some books which are written in verse, I feel as though something is lost because they are shorter but the author magically takes the reader deep into the mind and soul of this young girl. This book is great for junior high and up and is a great look into the world of historical fiction. I would suggest this as a starter book for those looking to try historical fiction and I would hope that teachers would promote this book for the fine piece of writing that it is.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Reading this for #bookbootcamp today was a pleasure. I am amazed by the woman this story was based on - Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist in a time when expressing those thoughts was certainly dangerous. Margarita Engle created this novel-in-verse to express some of those ideas. Here are some of the lines that grabbed me as I read. [the 'she' is her mother who doesn't think women should read] She sends me to my silent room, where I spend quiet hours rem Reading this for #bookbootcamp today was a pleasure. I am amazed by the woman this story was based on - Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist in a time when expressing those thoughts was certainly dangerous. Margarita Engle created this novel-in-verse to express some of those ideas. Here are some of the lines that grabbed me as I read. [the 'she' is her mother who doesn't think women should read] She sends me to my silent room, where I spend quiet hours remembering the freedom to read. Beyond these convent gates, books are locked away and men hold the keys. Some people are born with words flowing in their veins. Just as often, poetry is a free dance of birds in air swooping and dipping in surprising directions. So many people have not yet learned that souls have no color and can never be owned. All I need is paper, ink, and the courage to let wild words soar. - originally posted at http://readingtl.blogspot.com/2013/09...

  10. 5 out of 5

    K M

    Shame on me - I had never heard of this author, nor the subject of this book - Cuban poet, abolitionist, and feminist Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. This story in verse tells of Tula's childhood and adolescence, and is followed by historical notes that teach the reader about her actual writings.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Strong start, beautiful and compelling language. Not sure about the ending. We're considering it for a whole-class read in 6th grade.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elsie Nzeyimana

    “The Lightning Dreamer,” by Margarita Engle “The Lightning Dreamer” by Margarita Engle, is a story that takes place in Cuba where girls were not allowed to read and were arranged in a marriage at a certain age. The main character’s name is Mula. Mula has one brother and she lives with her father and mother, she like reading books but she is not allowed to read because she is a girl, and her culture believed that a girl who reads books is an unladylike and that a girl is born to be married and tak “The Lightning Dreamer,” by Margarita Engle “The Lightning Dreamer” by Margarita Engle, is a story that takes place in Cuba where girls were not allowed to read and were arranged in a marriage at a certain age. The main character’s name is Mula. Mula has one brother and she lives with her father and mother, she like reading books but she is not allowed to read because she is a girl, and her culture believed that a girl who reads books is an unladylike and that a girl is born to be married and take care of her husband and kids. Then, when Tula turned Fourteen her parent arranged a marriage for her, and her grandfather was the one who chose a fiance for her, but Tula said to herself,”I rather am a hermit than live with a stranger who would make me even more lonely than when I am truly alone.”Tula refused to get married but focus on her writing, then after that, her grandfather die with anger towards Tula’s mother that she didn’t inherit anything from him because Tula did not want to get married. My opinion about “The Lightning Dreamer” is that the author did a great job because Tula’s country was a hopeless world for girls most of them ended up the same way, but Tula’s story shows that no matter how hard the situation can be if someone decides to stick on their dreams they can end up finding peace, as Tula said at last,”For the first time in my life I’ve been released from the walls that trap women.” I would give this book a rating of 3 because it is a book that encourages people to follow their dreams and mostly women, but at the same time, most of the issues that take place has come to an end in this current world.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Englie is a Pura Belpre Honor Book. It is a historical fiction account that is written in verses through primarily the perspective of a young girl named Tula. Tula is based on Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda who lived from 1814 - 1873 in Cuba during the 19th century and was one of the world's most prominent female writers who wrote Sab one of the first abolitionist novels that included feminist themes also. Tula spoke out in her poems about the unfairness of arra The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Englie is a Pura Belpre Honor Book. It is a historical fiction account that is written in verses through primarily the perspective of a young girl named Tula. Tula is based on Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda who lived from 1814 - 1873 in Cuba during the 19th century and was one of the world's most prominent female writers who wrote Sab one of the first abolitionist novels that included feminist themes also. Tula spoke out in her poems about the unfairness of arranged marriages and how she felt about the existence and horrors of slavery. The book was short in length but extremely powerful in meaning and full of emotion. The verses were beautiful and you could really feel how strong Tula was and how she always stood up for her beliefs. The underlying them of love was spread throughout. I think this would be a fantastic choice for any studies revolving around slavery, the history of Cuba, and a study of human nature and civil rights in a poem form. The verses occasionally go back and forth from Tula and you hear other's perspectives in the poems such as her brother, her mother, a slave and a man that she loves. This would be a good book to study different perspectives of a situation in a classroom and how history is written from different perspectives as well and that is important to examine.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    This wonderful book of free verse poetry taught a beautiful lesson of survival, choice, and freedom. This true life account is presented in such a lovely way, it is full of so many strong affirmations for young women, looking closely at the nature and strength of the feminine voice. I highly encourage this book for anyone struggling with their own personal worth and creativity. It's a beautiful representation of everything I feel about reading, writing, and the loveliness of making words into st This wonderful book of free verse poetry taught a beautiful lesson of survival, choice, and freedom. This true life account is presented in such a lovely way, it is full of so many strong affirmations for young women, looking closely at the nature and strength of the feminine voice. I highly encourage this book for anyone struggling with their own personal worth and creativity. It's a beautiful representation of everything I feel about reading, writing, and the loveliness of making words into stories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Noninuna

    4.5 starsAnother history lesson for me. This time the story was told not about the oppressed but their supporter. Brilliant perspective tho I was expecting a longer & more refined ending but it's based on a real person's life, so... 4.5 starsAnother history lesson for me. This time the story was told not about the oppressed but their supporter. Brilliant perspective tho I was expecting a longer & more refined ending but it's based on a real person's life, so...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    Great ML non-fiction in verse. (Clean)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This was a beautiful verse novel, telling an imaginative account of the historical Cuban abolitionist Avellaneda. Left me wanting to know more about her life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This was a really good historical fiction poetry book by a Cuban American about a cuban abolitionist and her mentor, a cuban rebel poet. What I really loved the most is that there was so much history, culture, especially for a young adult/juvenile book. I recommend it especially for younger readers.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Raf

    Margarita Engle, or Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda speaks about her own experiences through the main character of the book named "Tula". Engle was a fierce abolitionist and a feminist who lamented the fact that women in 19th century Cuba were not warranted the right to education which was socially shunned as something that made women unattractive. In her poetry, Engle speaks trough Tula about being a caged bird, lacking the freedom to roam and expand her horizons by learning and expressing her id Margarita Engle, or Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda speaks about her own experiences through the main character of the book named "Tula". Engle was a fierce abolitionist and a feminist who lamented the fact that women in 19th century Cuba were not warranted the right to education which was socially shunned as something that made women unattractive. In her poetry, Engle speaks trough Tula about being a caged bird, lacking the freedom to roam and expand her horizons by learning and expressing her ideas. She often talks about being bored and not fulfilled while leaving in quite comfortable conditions on a plantation. The Lightning Dreamer is a great resource for middle school and high school students who are learning about various abolition movements, cultural expectations of women in Cuba, as well as rhyming poetry that speaks of frustration, longing for true love, and freedom.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathy D'Amato

    Read this with my first grade grandson and it led to some wonderful conversations about social justice. I would highly recommend it as an introduction to those hard discussions.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Natalia F

    First picking up this book, I knew I was interested in poetry. I saw the title and was not sure what to expect. As I started reading, I learned that it was about a women's right to an education, to be treated equally and her right to choosing her own marriage. This was different than other poetry that I had read recently. I read about a girl named Tula who loved books, education and wanted equality. Living in Cuba, she would be seen as a rebel if this was known. I learned a lot about what women First picking up this book, I knew I was interested in poetry. I saw the title and was not sure what to expect. As I started reading, I learned that it was about a women's right to an education, to be treated equally and her right to choosing her own marriage. This was different than other poetry that I had read recently. I read about a girl named Tula who loved books, education and wanted equality. Living in Cuba, she would be seen as a rebel if this was known. I learned a lot about what women had to live with in the past and their journey to equality that is still going on today. Her mother who she called Mama had gone against her father's wishes and married a man she loved. After learning the affects on her family, her mother wanted to keep the ideas of books, love and an education away from Tula. The Nuns were the only women who had access to books. They would take Tula in and allow her to read for hours. While dealing with this oppression, Tula would use the "enchanted paper" that her brother secretly gave her and write poetry and magical stories. She read them to the orphans and her brother. These stories helped her fall in love with writing and made her realize how unfair she was being treated. My favorite aspect of these poems was hearing what her peers thought of this. Some thought she was crazy, some were scared for her but the most important part was that some were inspired by her work. I thought it was amazing to see other perspectives and how other women saw this inequality. There were not many parts that I disliked from this collection. One thing that I would have liked is to see more of her poems that her brother loved so much. Though some were shown, I liked how they were a metaphor for her life and what she was going through.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amy Rae

    I'm wobbling between three and four stars for this one. It's a quick, powerful story of a fascinating figure from Cuban history. I learned a great deal, and I loved the way Engle brought 19th-century Cuba too life. Tula's relationship with the family servant (previously slave), Caridad, was drawn out especially well. The main thing that bugs me about it is Engle's choice to write poems from the points of view of "the nuns" and "the orphans" as a group. They feel generalized, and considering how i I'm wobbling between three and four stars for this one. It's a quick, powerful story of a fascinating figure from Cuban history. I learned a great deal, and I loved the way Engle brought 19th-century Cuba too life. Tula's relationship with the family servant (previously slave), Caridad, was drawn out especially well. The main thing that bugs me about it is Engle's choice to write poems from the points of view of "the nuns" and "the orphans" as a group. They feel generalized, and considering how important Tula believes it is that each orphan should get to speak in her plays, it seems like a weird choice to make them speak in a single, agreeable chorus. (The nuns, meanwhile, felt like they were mostly there for exposition; they didn't get much character. They tell us they're allowed to read books other women may not, but they don't tell us how they feel about that, or how they feel about Tula and the other girls under their tutelage. How difficult must it be to watch them, knowing the small freedoms they can be offered at the convent will disappear as soon as their families marry them off to men they hardly know?) I would have preferred to see Engle create an individual voice from each of the groups and give it more depth. Alternatively, I'd have liked to see their poetry remain spoken in a group but have less concordance. If it was made clear in the text that not all the orphans or all the nuns felt the same way about X or Y, I wouldn't have found it as much at odds with the general emphasis on individual choice. There are places where the poetry could have been a little more immediate, too. For instance, I feel like a poem about slipping through the streets to visit secret poetry meetings could be powerful and suspenseful. Tula's brother, Manuel, tells us about doing just that in such a removed way, however, that I didn't feel the danger as strongly as I think I could have. It was clear from the poem's vantage point that it already happened and everyone was in the clear. That doesn't make for a gripping poem, in my opinion. I'm gonna go with three stars for now, I think. It's definitely worth a read, especially if you've never heard of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda before now. But I can see places where I think it could use some improvement nonetheless.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The Lightning Dreamer, a historical novel written in Margarita Engle's notable verse, is meant as a fictional biography of the Cuban Writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Tula's mother and grandfather have arranged a marriage to an older man in exchange for wealth when she's fourteen years old. "He's promised Tula's hand to the most powerful man in town, a rich merchant who won't refuse such a beautiful young wife, along with the generous dowry my father offers in exchange for the The Lightning Dreamer, a historical novel written in Margarita Engle's notable verse, is meant as a fictional biography of the Cuban Writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Tula's mother and grandfather have arranged a marriage to an older man in exchange for wealth when she's fourteen years old. "He's promised Tula's hand to the most powerful man in town, a rich merchant who won't refuse such a beautiful young wife, along with the generous dowry my father offers in exchange for the tidy arrangement." But Tula has other plans, and finds refuge at a convent/orphanage where she is free to read and write, and becomes especially inspired by the writings of Jose Maria Heredia, a Cuban abolitionist poet, who's views of independence influence the young Tula, and she refuses to marry the stranger. She is exiled to the countryside where she meets Sab, who she falls in love with. Unfortunately, he loves another, but the two stay friends. She eventually travels to Havana at the age of twenty-two to be free to write about independence and equality for all people of color and women especially, and writes the novel, Sab. The Lightning Dreamer is recommended for its historical fiction and metaphorical verse. Margarita Engle elaborates in her Historical Note and offers original writings of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda to the delight of her audience. Recommended for Grades 7-12. Notable Awards and Honors: 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

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Beautiful book in verse, fictionalized, about the childhood of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. Takes place in 1826-29 and 1836, when she is 14,15 and 22. She lives in Cuba, loves to read and to write poetry, but is forbidden from doing so by her mother and by society, so she burns her poems after she writes them. She's free to read when she visits the local convent, but her freedom is shortlived because her mother has arranged a marriage for her to a wealthy man. She refuses to marry him and is s Beautiful book in verse, fictionalized, about the childhood of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. Takes place in 1826-29 and 1836, when she is 14,15 and 22. She lives in Cuba, loves to read and to write poetry, but is forbidden from doing so by her mother and by society, so she burns her poems after she writes them. She's free to read when she visits the local convent, but her freedom is shortlived because her mother has arranged a marriage for her to a wealthy man. She refuses to marry him and is sent out of town to live as punishment until she reconsiders. There she meets a storyteller and a former slave boy, with whom she falls in love, despite the fact that he loves someone else who is also unattainable. The relationships are conjectured, based on the characters in Avellaneda's novel SAB, which when published in 1841 was the first abolitionist/feminist novel written in Spanish by a woman (and predates Uncle Tom's Cabin). The end of the book takes place when Gertrudis is leaving Cuba for Spain, to try to live her life the way she wishes. It's an emotional story, giving her thoughts on the family's slave cook, on her chafing under the male-ordered world she lives in, and showing how she is a romantic, creative girl who lives in her imagination and dreads the future. Some of the poems are in the voice of minor characters, such as her younger brother, who helps hide her writings, or her mother or even the nuns at the convent. Lists references, since it is researched and written about a real person, and quotes her famous works in both Spanish and English translations. Author's note gives full story of her adult life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Zell

    The whole novel is set in poetic verse. Tula knows how to read and write but is forbidden by her mother to delve into written stories or poetry. It is a waste of time according to mother. Tula is a real historical figure. Engle offers a fictional account of how Tula came to realize her passion as a poet. Tula is Spanish and lives in Cuba. In the 19th century, Cuba was a colony of Spain. Slaves were used to do manual labor in homes and fields. Tula despised slavery at a young age. She also despis The whole novel is set in poetic verse. Tula knows how to read and write but is forbidden by her mother to delve into written stories or poetry. It is a waste of time according to mother. Tula is a real historical figure. Engle offers a fictional account of how Tula came to realize her passion as a poet. Tula is Spanish and lives in Cuba. In the 19th century, Cuba was a colony of Spain. Slaves were used to do manual labor in homes and fields. Tula despised slavery at a young age. She also despised the idea of living in an arranged marriage when she turned 14. Twice she rejected arrangements of her relatives. She wanted to marry for love, not economic status. Tula eventually leaves for Havana. From there she makes her way to Spain. Tula is Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). In Spain she wrote a book title Sab which persuaded people to question slavery and to not distinguish between people because of the color of their skin. Engle's poetry is a delight to read. Tula is the primary voice in the poetry. However, Engle gives voice to Tula's brother, mother, cook, and Sab. Through Tula we learn about what it is like to be withheld from education just because of her gender, be nearly forced into arranged marriages, be deeply frustrated by humans being made into slaves, and to know the deep pangs of love.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle is a quick and fun read. It is full of vibrant poems that tell a story of a young girl who isn't happy with her lot in like. She write poems to get her struggles out, as it seems no one around her really listens to what she says. She lives in a time where there are slaves, and in fact, her own family owns slaves. She does not agree with this, and thinks everyone should live a free life, as she feels trapped herself. As soon as she comes of age, she knows The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle is a quick and fun read. It is full of vibrant poems that tell a story of a young girl who isn't happy with her lot in like. She write poems to get her struggles out, as it seems no one around her really listens to what she says. She lives in a time where there are slaves, and in fact, her own family owns slaves. She does not agree with this, and thinks everyone should live a free life, as she feels trapped herself. As soon as she comes of age, she knows that her family is just going to marry her off to an old rich man so that they can make a profit. She finds escapes in several different ways: she puts on plays for the orphans, she reads her poems aloud to a servant, and she eventually refuses the marriage her mother sets up for her. This is a story of a vibrant young girl who could inspire any young reader. On the negative side, The Lightning Dreamer is not very complex or full of mature writing. This is not a text that challenges it's reader, but rather holds their hand throughout the story. It would be a good resource to pull individual poems from, though. This book is an accessible way to broach a topic that students may not have a lot of experience with (such as slavery and arranged marriages), but it is not a good source for them to get all of the information that they would need.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This is a young adult book written in free prose. It tells the story of a real life person named Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanedo. She belonged to the aristocracy but refused to cooperate with social norms common in Cuba at the time. In the early 19th century, she learned to read and write by sneaking books from her father's library, getting help from her older brother and enlisting nuns at a nearby convent to support a secret education and access to their library. At age 14, she refused an arrange This is a young adult book written in free prose. It tells the story of a real life person named Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanedo. She belonged to the aristocracy but refused to cooperate with social norms common in Cuba at the time. In the early 19th century, she learned to read and write by sneaking books from her father's library, getting help from her older brother and enlisting nuns at a nearby convent to support a secret education and access to their library. At age 14, she refused an arranged marriage and was shunned by her family until she agreed to give in. Time spent on an uncle's ranch allowed her to write two books of poetry recommending the abolition of slavery. The books were banned in Cuba but gained notoriety in Spain. The book is written in simple language and is very accessible to people learning English. I recommend it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Merrilyn Tucker

    I loved this little novel written in verse. Tula, real name Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, is a 14-year-old Cuban girl living a life of wealth and ease. In 19th century Cuba, Tula was powerless: she had no money of her own, could not receive an education, and definitely was not invited to share her political philosophy. Tula's mother was eager to marry off Tula to a wealthy suitor so Tula's family could use the money brought in by the marriage to buy more slaves. This idea--as well as that of be I loved this little novel written in verse. Tula, real name Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, is a 14-year-old Cuban girl living a life of wealth and ease. In 19th century Cuba, Tula was powerless: she had no money of her own, could not receive an education, and definitely was not invited to share her political philosophy. Tula's mother was eager to marry off Tula to a wealthy suitor so Tula's family could use the money brought in by the marriage to buy more slaves. This idea--as well as that of being married off for money--sickened Tula. She then took up her pen as her weapon, writing to criticize the institution of slavery and men's domination over women. Engle includes a bibliography and a Historical Note. Suitable for grades 6+, mainly so that students will have at least a beginning understanding of the history of slavery and of women's subservient roles in society.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    I am usually head over heels in love with Engle's novels in verse for young readers. This is the first one that didn't positively thrill me. It is extremely well-written, but it didn't seem as passionate and inspired as her earlier books. Still, Tula's rejection of a forced marriage, and her assertion of the rights of women and abhorrence of slavery in Cuba circa 1827 is an important subject.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina Larson

    This book is about a young girl Tula who wants to read and write. She loves being able to use her words to say something to others. It takes place between 1827 and 1836 in Cuba where Tula was getting ready to come of age where her father could chose the richest husband for her to marry. Tula however was not in agreement of a fixed marriage and constantly spoke about how she dreaded her birthday. When Tula read, she loved to read verses of Heredia who was a young girl who became a part of the los This book is about a young girl Tula who wants to read and write. She loves being able to use her words to say something to others. It takes place between 1827 and 1836 in Cuba where Tula was getting ready to come of age where her father could chose the richest husband for her to marry. Tula however was not in agreement of a fixed marriage and constantly spoke about how she dreaded her birthday. When Tula read, she loved to read verses of Heredia who was a young girl who became a part of the los Soles y Rayos- The Suns and Rays of Bolivar which is a secret group of poets and artists who wanted to establish a democratic nation where everyone was equal regardless of your color, no more slavery, and one vote per man. Woman that lived in Tula’s community were not allowed to think this way. It was also frowned upon for them to learn anything because it was attractive for women to be smart. In order to be marriage quality they were expected to do housework such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. This isn’t what Tula was interested, she wanted to write and have a voice of her own. She wanted to be able write so she did and had her brother hide all of her work because if he was found with them no one would question it because he is a man. Her stories began with vampires and giants and even then she was shamed for writing. She heard stories of her mom and how she chose love over money when her mom married her dad and how she rebelled from what her parents wanted her to do. When she grew up to these stories, she was confused why she was expected to marry into money when her mother didn’t. That wasn’t the life that Tula wanted so she continued to live in her fantasy world of plays written by Heredia had written in their garden. Tula’s brother Manuel was worried if Tula was caught reciting these that they would be arrested and tortured. These poems by Heredia were rebel poems that Tula got from the nuns and they are not allowed out in public. As Tula is writing more about the equality that she hopes for her brother becomes more worrisome. He wonders if they do reach equality where women can marry the men that they want and that they are able to marry because of love and not money, if any pretty woman will ever choose him to marry. Though Tula asks for a kind man to marry, the man that is chosen for her is the most powerful man in town. They have plenty of time before the wedding but once she speaks with her friend about marrying for love, her friend Lola elopes and Tula is blamed for it. Tula’s wedding is now rushed to 90 days as her family fears that she will do the same. When Tula refuses this marriage she is banished to live at her grandfather's house and when he dies and leaves nothing to Tula’s mother, Tula is blamed for being a disgrace to the family. One night like many of the slaves that used to work at the mansion that belonged to her grandfather, she fead and began to journey out. She ran into a woman who listened to Tula’s story and shared her own. She met this Woman’s grandson who was a freed slave. Tula and the Grandson Sab quickly fell in love even though he was a taken man to the woman Carlota. Carlota loved a new man and through letters Sab asks her to no longer love him and to forget their friendship, that it was not love. Sab asks Tula to marry the man that Carlota loved and Tula refused and said it was a silly offer. Tula loved Sab and wanted to be with him saying that without love, marriage is just another form of slavery. Seven years later, Tula finds herself out reminiscing on the love that she felt for Sab, that they were a reflection of each other’s dreams. She was now writing and sharing her thoughts with who would listen. When Tula’s mother tries to marry off Manuel; Tula’s brother, he begs her not to as he also plans to defy her if he is arranged a marriage. When Manuel visits Tula in the city Havana where she is writing, he plans to tell her of the plans that their mother has for them of another arranged marriage. As she continues to share her stories with audiences in Havana, soldiers are closing in on her and she needs to fea if she wants to continue her life writing. Tula and Manuel buy passage to Spain and they plan to begin a new life there. Tula reflects on love and how it is nothing new, and that it must be looked at differently. This book is very clever in format as it is written in verse and each new section is titled the name of who the narrator of the book is. It is clear to follow in the way of you always knew who was talking. There was also so many cultural details such as arranged marriage and how women were expected to do house chores rather than learn in school. It was also great in showing all sides of this argument. From a man’s opinion from their brother, from a mother’s view point, to the daughter when it comes to arranged marriage. The only weakness that I found in this book was that the majority of the book just covered one cultural group and it did not introduce a second cultural group until briefly at the end when it introduced the storyteller and her grandson Sab. The end of the book also was a little choppy and hard to follow with gaps when the time jumped in a new chapter.

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