The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to CubaTitle:
Author: Margarita Engle
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: historical fiction, poetry
# Of pages: 151
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Year of Release: 2010
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Description: A historical novel written in poetry rather than prose, The Firefly Letters tells the stories of three women who call Cuba their home. Cecilia is a young African girl, sold into slavery by her father. Elena is Cecilia’s mistress, the daughter of a wealthy Cuban. Despite cultural and social barriers, their lives are irrevocably drawn together with the visit of Fredrika, a progressive Swedish noblewoman. Fredrika, in turn becomes attached to the girls, as well as the beautiful land they call their home. However, Fredrika soon finds that underneath its lush scenery, Cuba is also a land of great cruelty and oppression. Aided by Cecilia and Elena, Fredrika endeavors to fight against the injustice of slavery.
Review: Told with simplicity yet infused with passion and meaning, Engle’s novel proves that one does not need many words to present a rich, complicated story. Switching perspectives throughout the book, the personalities and lives of each of the three main characters shine through. A few chapters are told from the perspective of Cecilia’s husband, providing a male voice to balance the otherwise female dominated story. While the spare poetry requires the reader to use some imagination to fill in the blanks, The Firefly Letters is both refreshing and engaging, skillfully aligning discussion of atrocity with lighthearted descriptions of everyday pleasures and creating a group of likable characters. This brief, unique novel provides a glimpse into 19th century life that will be enjoyed by both the young and the old.
Rating: 4, for maturity of the subject matter
Positive: The three female narrators exhibit great courage and compassion. The forward thinking Fredrika champions freedom and equality for all, not allowing worry of public opinion to stand in the way of doing what she believes is right. Although Elena is initially narrow minded and selfish, she is changed by her interaction with Cecilia and Fredrika. As the book progresses, both Fredrika and Elena use their resources to help address the issue of slavery.
Spiritual Elements: None.
Violence: Violence associated with slavery such as whipping occurs, but it is not described with graphic detail.
Language: No inappropriate language.
Sexual Content: Cecilia is with child–the product of a marriage arranged by her master.
Recommendation: Normally, I find novels written entirely in poetry difficult to get interested in. However, this book quickly grabbed my attention and held it. While at some points I did miss the fuller story telling of prose, over all it was simply beautiful. I would recommend this unique little book to readers 10 and up.