Engle's latest work of historical fiction is done in her signature, spare style of poetry; each poem is told from the perspective of one of a cast of characters. Two of the people, Naridó and Caucubu, are young Cuban lovers who refuse to have their fate dictated by their village's elders. There are also two imperialist characters: Bernardo de Talavera (a Spaniard who has worked his native slaves to death & then turned to piracy as his new career) and Alonso de Ojeda (a savage conquistador who has been taken hostage by the pirate Talavera). All these story lines are tied together through Quebrado, a young man who has been forced into years of slavery on Talavera's pirate ship.
Quebrado, or "the broken one," has been so dubbed by his captor because of his mixed Spanish & TaÃno heritage. Quebrado's ability to speak with both the indigenous Cubans and the Spanish invaders is a valuable skill. When the pirate vessel is shipwrecked by a hurricane, Quebrado is given a new name by the villagers who rescue him: Hurara, "Born of Wind." And under this new persona, Hurara tells the story of his enslavement. Ojeda and Talavera, also survivors of the shipwreck, are left to Hurara's mercy as he speaks to the villagers about them. What shall the former slave's verdict on their fate be?
As Naridó and Caucubu form a new home with the young boy, he sheds the old names that were imposed by his past. Instead, he chooses a new name--Yacuyo--to show that he is neither a broken slave nor the gentle boy of his pre-slavery youth.
The hurricane, personified as the Woman of Wind, changes the fortunes of its Hurricane Dancers, much like Ariel's influence in Shakespeare's The Tempest. With literary allusions and historical facts woven into the voices of so many characters, this quick read remains sophisticated despite its approachable language.
This book is written in verse such that each poem is a page-long vignette in the voice of one of many characters. This approach is incredibly effective in painting a multi-dimensional image of the place and time. This story will be of particular interest to readers of history, adventure, and poetry, though the poetic nature of the book may discourage a broader audience. The story’s cultural significance and it’s unique style would be an asset in the classroom and the narrative lends itself to out loud reading. Hurricane Dancers is a strong addition to any juvenile or young adult collection.
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