The Surrender Tree is a verse novel based on the actual events and actual historical figures in the Cuban struggle for independence (despite the publisher’s classification of this one as non-fiction, it is definitely historical fiction). It is a story I was not too familiar with, so I did learn some history, or at least refresh my memory of these events. It is about Rosa, a slave freed by an owner who rebelled against Spain and said that freedom only existed when everyone shared in it. She healed the injured during Cuba’s three wars for independence, hiding out in the mountains and forests and caves, healing not only the sick and injured Cuban rebels, but also the Spanish soldiers–anyone who needed healing.
There are also poems told from the perspectives of the other people in Rosa’s life, but she is the common thread of the story and narrates her fair share of it. The book covers almost all of her life, but only briefly does it cover her childhood, and soon after she grows up and gets married, so I’m not certain what makes this book classified as middle grade or young adult (the back of the ARC says middle grade, the publisher’s catalog says young adult, both mysteriously say non-fiction). I’m not sure you could find many young readers for it, especially younger than high school. The poetry is beautiful and breathtaking and more than just sentences with line breaks–and how many teenagers enjoy poetry? I do, and most of the ones who will read this will because we love language and words, but most of our peers are not big fans of poetry.
Despite the problems with nailing down an audience, this really is an amazing book. The story itself is fascinating (especially to someone who, like myself, enjoys history), but it Margarita Engle’s brilliant use of language that really makes this book shine. The poetry is just gorgeous and nearly every word is perfect. This certainly would not have been such a captivating story told another way. The Surrender Tree is a powerful, emotional portrayal of one amazing woman’s part in Cuba’s struggle for independence. Margarita Engle is an extraordinary talented writer, and I highly recommend this book.