Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Historical fiction, verse novels
What did you like about the book? In the summer of 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, the people of Cuba began starving. Dependent on its patron for supplies and food staples, the country grew mostly sugar cane. Ironically, the country hosted the Pan American Games that summer, so hungry Cubans were forced to hide their perilous situation from outsiders to save face. Two fictional teens, Liana and Amado, are brought together by an otherworldly lost dog and fall in love as they search for food, visit Amado’s wise abuelos, and ultimately make a decision about whether to flee together to Florida. Told in alternating first person free verse poems (each clearly labeled with a first name) the poems reveal the teens’ intense physical hunger (both for food and for each other) but also their very different personalities and situations. The poems abound with sensory details like the taste of seaweed, the smell of the salt air and the sounds of Castro’s speeches on the hulking, Russian-made radio. A short afterwards by Engle gives some historical detail. Although there are many Spanish words and phrases scattered throughout the book, I found them easy to understand, given the rich context provided by Engle. On the cover, Liana has light brown skin and Amado’s is a darker brown.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The dog also has poems, although they’re told in the third person. Apparently Cuba’s singing dogs are the stuff of legends, but I honestly found the idea of dog poetry too weird. Occasionally Engle’s anti-Castro rhetoric becomes stilted enough to break the mood. How could the line “Why didn’t the government ever diversify, planting a variety of food crops?” ever sound at home in a poem?
To whom would you recommend this book? Admirers of Engle’s other books will enjoy this one. Some students love books in verse and ask for them. Those interested in Cuban history may be motivated to find out more about this era.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: April 22, 2021