The Poetry: As previously noted, Engle is a prolific verse novelist for young readers, having published nine well-received, award winning verse novels before Lion Island. This volume contains beautiful poetry, and I found the poems which Fan is the speaker of to be particularly moving as she longs to become an artist. Engle's use of imagery, lyricism, and metaphor contribute richly to her work. The poem "That Same Evening" in which the speaker Wing describes being robbed by Spanish soldiers ends with two rhythmic stanzas describing his emotions: "Rage comes and goes in gusts, / like a hurricane's furious / wind" and "Quietly, I return to work the next day, / trapped in the eye of my own / storm" (41). The quiet rhythm and movement on the page of these two stanzas enacts the content of the poem, tracing the rise and fall of the wind as well as Wing's anger. Later in the narrative, in the poem "Mirror," Fan meditates upon her experiences of being a young woman and the twin sister of a passionate brother:
Being the twin of a boy
is like shimmering
in and out of a shiny river,
the constant burst of rushing water
never peaceful enough to see my own
reflection (52).Toward the end of this same poem, Fan notes that her brother can go anywhere and so or say whatever he pleases, while as a young woman she must constantly guard herself and speak and dream with caution. While Fan and Wing's stories are significant to the narrative, Antonio's experiences are the underlying drive of the work. In the poem "Quiet Truths" toward the end of the verse novel, Antonio examines his place as messenger, translator, and activist,
How difficult it is to describe injustice.
No wonder Fan used a knife on wood,
or a stick in mud, before discovering
her own songs.
There's nothing a warrior of words can do
for people who have already been murdered,
nothing but offer comfort so that the living
can begin to feel peaceful in the presence
of memories (142).This seems to be the overall drive of Engle's series of historical verse novels that examine the struggles and injustices faced by so many during this time period in Cuba. Engle's Lion Island and her series as a whole draw attention to these experiences and histories.
I give Engle's Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words four stars and highly recommend it.