Review of Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words

Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words
by Margarita Engle
Middle School    Atheneum    163 pp.
8/16    978-1-4814-6112-2    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-6114-6    $10.99

In this last chapter in her series of verse novels about the struggle “against forced labor in nineteenth-century Cuba” (The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, rev. 7/06, and companions), Engle tells the story of Cuba’s Chinese indentured workers through the eyes of Antonio Chuffat, a Chinese African Cuban boy. Antonio wants desperately to help the laborers who seek freedom from the indenture system, with its endlessly renewing eight-year contracts, but as a twelve-year-old whose father would prefer he study, he isn’t sure what his role can be. When he takes a job as a messenger, he learns firsthand that words have power. Antonio befriends Wing and Fan, Chinese American twins whose family fled California as a result of anti-Asian riots. The poems alternate among all three voices. Fan ponders her own freedom and place in the struggle as a female, while Wing decides that being a soldier is the path he must take. Beginning in 1871, the novel spans eight years, during which we see the three characters grow from conflicted young people into confident adults. Once again, Engle weaves fiction and fact to create a lyrical tale. Like Antonio, readers will discover the power of words and the importance of documenting stories so that histories are not forgotten. A page of contextual background, a historical note, references, and a very brief list of further reading recommendations are appended.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Celia C. Pérez
Celia C. Pérez

Celia C. Pérez is the author of The First Rule of Punk (Viking), a 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book honoree and a Pura Belpré Author Honor book winner for narration, and Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers (Kokila/Penguin). When not writing about quirky kids who break rules, she works as a community college librarian in Chicago. She is a former co-chair of REFORMA's Children and Young Adult Services Committee and served on the 2014 Pura Belpré Award committee.


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