by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Enchanted, indeed! Readers will experience the sights and sounds of Cuba through Margarita Engle's triumphant YA book. Engle captivates and transcends decades and distance. Remembering back to her youth spent in Cuba before the Cold War, Engle describes an enchanted island of sun, sea, horses, farms, fragrant flowers, bright colors, music and tropical fruit. The lime picked by her grandmother is the most fragrant lovely thing young Margarita has ever tasted.
When her family moves to smoggy Los Angeles, she is forced into a school where she's an outsider. As she looks at the other students, she realizes that she will never fit in. The girl longs for her other home, her island home. She misses her Abuelita and the enchanted air of Cuba.
April 1961 brings the Bay of Pigs, a failed U.S. attempt to control Cuba and Margarita is looked upon as the enemy by classmates. She is afraid that she may have to go to a war camp like Japanese Americans during World War II. The girl retreats into books where she can be free. 1962 is the beginning of the Cold War and American school children are taught to hide under their desks for nuclear drills. Grown ups whisper and people are visibly shaken. America is afraid of Cuba and the Soviet Union. America holds its breath as the President continues talks with Khrushchev. America closes its doors to Cuba.
Margarita's family may never see their relatives again. Engle writes in the author's note, "While I was writing Enchanted Air, my hope was that normalization would begin before it went to press. That prayer has been answered....one of the closest neighbors of the United States is just beginning to be accessible to other American citizens."
Young Margarita lives for books and poetry, spending much of her time visiting the library. She writes, "Books become my refuge./Reading keeps me hopeful." How many readers have escaped through books? The written word is powerful indeed, connecting a lonely child with a world outside her four walls and a country that does not welcome her. The "two wings" are the two countries: America and Cuba, her two lives so different yet both a part of her.
Readers will engage with the verse structure of the book. Easy and accessible to readers, even reluctant ones, Enchanted Air is a great addition to any multi-cultural studies collection or classroom.
Engle describes the historical incidents of the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs from a child's point of view. It is powerful and poignant.
Highly, highly recommended grade 6-up. This is one book that has many teaching opportunities: history, sociology, English, poetry, and teach it for the love of literature!
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.
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