? The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle, 2008, Henry Holt and Co. Books (Children?s Fiction/ Teen Fiction/ Poetry/ Historical Fiction)
The subtitle of this book is Poems of Cuba?s Struggle for Freedom, but don?t let the word ?poems? fool you. You don?t have to be a poetry reader to appreciate this remarkably unique story. Told in free verse (a poetry style that doesn?t rhyme and concentrates instead on a realistic rhythm), The Surrender Tree is a complete narrative, a novel, a work of historical fiction that tells a version of Cuban history we don?t read about much in history texts. In 1868, a few Cuban plantation owners freed their slaves and declared independence from Spain?s rule. For the next three decades, the tropical isle was wracked by nearly constant warfare. Amidst the turmoil and bloodshed emerges Rosa, a slave-turned-healer who spends the tumultuous years of the war hiding in the jungle and healing anyone and everyone she comes across?runway slaves, Cuban rebels, Spanish soldiers (many who change sides after Rosa helps them) and even the legendary Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter who becomes a cruel soldier and Rosa?s most feared foe. Rosa and her husband José spend years camped out in make-shift hospitals in huts and caves, constantly on the move but always connected to the land by the plants, flowers, and herbs that Rosa uses as medicine. Rosa, José, Lieutenant Death, and others like Spain?s General Weyler, who in 1896 called for all Cuban peasants to be herded into ?reconcentration camps,? and Silvia, a young girl who escapes from one of Weyler?s death camps, take turns telling the story of Cuba?s fight for freedom from their own point of view. This is where the verse poetry comes in; every poem is a glimmer of light into the world of one of the book?s characters. The story becomes an interwoven, haunting story full of brutal tragedy, quiet triumph, and, above all, the beauty and history of the nation of Cuba. Author Margarita Engle (whose mother is Cuban) writes about real historical figures, though she takes a few liberties with the facts of their lives to weave a more completely unified story. In the end, she tells a powerful story in an elegant style to create a work that won her a Newbery Honor (the first Latino author to do so), a Pura Belpré Award (for Latino authors and illustrators), and a Jane Addams Award (for children?s books that promote peace, equality, and social justice). The Surrender Tree may be a book for young readers, but is truly a story that should be ignored by no audience.