Disclosure: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own.
Many of us seemingly mild-mannered types harbor a secret wish to be as feisty as the heroine of Cimarrona, the wonderful YA novel by Sara Monteagudo. Chabelis, born into slavery in nineteenth century Cuba, is saved as a four year old from a raid on a plantation gone horribly wrong. She is carried off to the hills in the saddlebag of one of the greatest cimarrones, or freedom fighters, of the time and is raised by him in the wilderness to hunt and fight just like the men she lives among.
At age twelve, she is abruptly taken to an orphanage and forced to live under the restrictive rules of the nun who run it, often resulting in a fierce contest of wills. As the years pass and war spills into the orphanage walls, Chabelis takes her chance to escape and seek revenge for the death of her loved ones. Yet she also faces the dilemma of how to respond to the injustice she sees all around her – impetuously, as her heart dictates, or more rationally, as the mature young woman she is struggling to become?
Chabelis’s typical teenage rebellion is complicated by the context of war, racism, sexism, and extremes of wealth and poverty in which she lives. Monteagudo does a brilliant job of bringing nineteenth century Cuba to life – from the plantation where Chabelis was born, to the jungle in which she is raised, the orphanage where she spends her adolescence, and the bustling city of Havana where she finally must confront the demons of her past and wrestle with which future she will choose. The novel is a mix of magical realism, historical fiction, coming of age novel, and straight up adventure.
I highly recommend this book for adults and mature young adults. It is a great way to introduce many concepts such as slavery, colonialism, race relations, gender inequalities, and independence movements. I would, however, caution that the content and language are quite mature, with scenes of sex and violence, including rape. Chabelis is a tough, no-holds barred young woman growing to maturity in a violent era that showed little compassion for “mixed blood” women such as herself. This novel does not sugar coat any of these difficulties, which in the end helps the reader to appreciate the heroine’s circumstances and admire her all the more.
This review is part of the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series from Multicultural Kid Blogs! This summer bloggers from all over the world are sharing their recommendations of great multicultural books for the entire family! For more details and the full schedule, visit the series main page. You can also follow along on our Summer Reading Pinterest Board!