Monday, October 26, 2009

Riveting Reads: The Surrender Tree


Let me paint a word picture for you. The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle is short. It’s a short children’s book of poetry with a shocking yellow cover and the charcoal silhouette of a tree rooted in a palm of a hand. A tree that looks almost finger-painted against the yellow background.
Its captivating cover attracted me like bees to honey. Or me to shoes. Or me to candy corn. I digress.
The silver spherical sticker helped sell me too, of course. The Surrender Tree is a Newbery Honor Book. Also, when you flip the book over, there’s a list of seven more notable awards Engle’s book was given, including ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Américas Award.
Critics agree. The Surrender Tree is a hit. It’s circulating through bookstores, libraries, schools, book clubs, and blogs. No doubt it will end up on the Oprah Book Club list. (At least this is one book your book club will likely read all the way through. Now, if you only get them to stop with the tangents and focus on a literary discussion for more than ten seconds at a time.) At a hundred and sixty-nine pages with only a poem on each page—similar to Out of Dust or Crank, two other very popular adolescent poetry books—The Surrender Tree still manages to douse the reader with a powerful Cuban voice and lyrical imagery.
The book spans the length of three Cuban wars where slaves fought the Spanish for freedom. Pulling from experiences of her great-grandparents’ past (they were Cuban refugees during the wars), Margarita Engle writes of three central characters. Rosa is a rebel Cuban with a talent for herbal healing. Some call her a witch because of her healing power and her ability to vanish when the adversary is closing in on her makeshift hospital. Witch or not, Rosa nurses injured rebels so they can live to fight another day. But her charity doesn’t stop there; Rosa heals friend and enemy alike. Her husband José keeps Rosa safe from the Spanish soldiers and an especially frightening villain nicknamed Lieutenant Death. Lt. Death hunts Rosa for years, believing somehow that her death will kill the spirit of the rebel movement and cause the faction to deflate.
Read The Surrender Tree and find out if Lieutenant catches “the witch” or if the Cuban refugees best their opponent. Anyway, at least look at the cover. You’ll be hooked too.
(as published in The Foothill Breeze in October 2009)

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