Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist” as Want to Read:
The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,205 ratings  ·  248 reviews
“I find it so easy to forget / that I’m just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts.”

Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Lightning Dreamer, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Sonia It's about a girl who learned to read a write from her father, because girls in Cuba can't get an education. (He is now dead.) At age thirteen she is …moreIt's about a girl who learned to read a write from her father, because girls in Cuba can't get an education. (He is now dead.) At age thirteen she is forced to get married to the highest bidder in order to get the money to support her family. Her mother says men will not like girls who read and write and they will think she is ugly and different. Tula only wants to marry for love and will not give up her passion. She also feels sorry for all the slaves her mother would buy with the money. She is inspired to rebel against inequality. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,205 ratings  ·  248 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a very short but beautiful YA book written completely in verse and dedicated to "Young poets who are in search of words " Margarita Engle has written a fictional account based on the true story of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda, ( Tula) a 14 year old girl from the nineteenth century living in the Spanish colony of Cuba who had the courage to speak out with words disguised as poetry and metaphor against slavery, the common custom which forced 14 year old girls to marry wealthy older men in ...more
*This review contains quotes from the book, but NO SPOILERS.*

“Books are door-shaped
Carrying me
Across oceans
And centuries,
Helping me feel
Less alone.

But my mother believes
That girls who read too much
Are unladylike
And ugly,
So my father’s books are locked
In a clear glass cabinet. I gaze
At enticing covers
And mysterious titles,
But I am rarely permitted
To touch
The enchantment
Of words.

When Caridad and I peer
Through the bars of a window,
We see weary slave girls trudging
Along the rough cobbleston
Book Concierge
Subtitle: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. This piece of historical fiction is told entirely in verse, the medium which Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (a/k/a Tula) chose to voice her opinions on slavery and women’s rights.

Engle gives us some insight into the conflicting thoughts and feelings of the young Tula as she approaches the age when young girls are given in marriage – or, as she puts it “sold to a stranger to ensure the family’s fortunes.” Her refusal to bow to this tradition earns her the s
The Dusty Jacket
In a country where both men and words are closely guarded, it is the poet who proved to be the boldest and most daring abolitionist. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (nicknamed Tula) is thirteen and enjoying her last year of personal freedom in Cuba. When she turns fourteen, she will be sold into matrimony to the highest bidder and her mother will use the proceeds from her marriage to buy more slaves. Tula abhors slavery and often feels enslaved herself by a society that denies her an education, th ...more
Athena Archeron
"I think of my feather pen as something magical that still belongs to a wing. All I need is paper, ink and the courage to let wild wings soar."

"So many people have not yet learned that souls have no color and can never be owned."

The Lightning Dreamer tells the story of a young girl who finds poetry as a way to rebel against an arranged marriage, fight for freedom, and slander the institution of slavery. The way the story is told is beautiful. The author has a way with words, arranging her poems
Ellie 9218
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A short little novel, beautifully written in poetic verse. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist is a fictionalized biography of Cuban abolitionist, Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanda (nicknamed Tula).

The story begins in Cuba in 1827 and focuses on Tula’s life as a teenager where she struggles to understand slavery, the practice of forced marriages, the oppression of women, and the denial of an education for girls (all considered the social norm). In a convent library (where she goes fo
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked this book. I liked learning about Tula and I'm really looking forward to read some more detailed books about her in the future. ...more
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Lightning Dreamer is a beautifully written book-in-verse about the life of a young girl growing up in Cuba. Tula is a girl who is more enamored with books than she is with boys which would be fine in the United States, however, she does not live there. When Tula becomes fourteen, her parents expect her to marry to better not only her station in life but theirs as well. But Tula wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage and spends much of her time expressing her opinions on freedom for wo ...more
Reading this for #bookbootcamp today was a pleasure. I am amazed by the woman this story was based on - Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist in a time when expressing those thoughts was certainly dangerous. Margarita Engle created this novel-in-verse to express some of those ideas. Here are some of the lines that grabbed me as I read.

[the 'she' is her mother who doesn't think women should read]
She sends me to my silent room,
where I spend quiet hours rem
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shame on me - I had never heard of this author, nor the subject of this book - Cuban poet, abolitionist, and feminist Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. This story in verse tells of Tula's childhood and adolescence, and is followed by historical notes that teach the reader about her actual writings. ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Strong start, beautiful and compelling language. Not sure about the ending. We're considering it for a whole-class read in 6th grade. ...more
Elsie Nzeyimana
“The Lightning Dreamer,”
by Margarita Engle

“The Lightning Dreamer” by Margarita Engle, is a story that takes place in Cuba where girls were not allowed to read and were arranged in a marriage at a certain age. The main character’s name is Mula. Mula has one brother and she lives with her father and mother, she like reading books but she is not allowed to read because she is a girl, and her culture believed that a girl who reads books is an unladylike and that a girl is born to be married and tak
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Englie is a Pura Belpre Honor Book. It is a historical fiction account that is written in verses through primarily the perspective of a young girl named Tula. Tula is based on Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda who lived from 1814 - 1873 in Cuba during the 19th century and was one of the world's most prominent female writers who wrote Sab one of the first abolitionist novels that included feminist themes also. Tula spoke out in her poems about the unfairness of arra ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book of free verse poetry taught a beautiful lesson of survival, choice, and freedom. This true life account is presented in such a lovely way, it is full of so many strong affirmations for young women, looking closely at the nature and strength of the feminine voice. I highly encourage this book for anyone struggling with their own personal worth and creativity. It's a beautiful representation of everything I feel about reading, writing, and the loveliness of making words into st ...more
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5 stars

Another history lesson for me. This time the story was told not about the oppressed but their supporter. Brilliant perspective tho I was expecting a longer & more refined ending but it's based on a real person's life, so...

Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The words are beautiful, as is the story. I had never heard of the Cuban abolitionist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, so I also felt like I was introduced to an amazing woman. She had a lot to say about equality between races, genders, and classes. It was amazing and beautiful and inspiring.
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great ML non-fiction in verse. (Clean)
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a beautiful verse novel, telling an imaginative account of the historical Cuban abolitionist Avellaneda. Left me wanting to know more about her life.
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a really good historical fiction poetry book by a Cuban American about a cuban abolitionist and her mentor, a cuban rebel poet. What I really loved the most is that there was so much history, culture, especially for a young adult/juvenile book. I recommend it especially for younger readers.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Margarita Engle, or Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda speaks about her own experiences through the main character of the book named "Tula". Engle was a fierce abolitionist and a feminist who lamented the fact that women in 19th century Cuba were not warranted the right to education which was socially shunned as something that made women unattractive. In her poetry, Engle speaks trough Tula about being a caged bird, lacking the freedom to roam and expand her horizons by learning and expressing her id ...more
Kathy D'Amato
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this with my first grade grandson and it led to some wonderful conversations about social justice. I would highly recommend it as an introduction to those hard discussions.
Natalia F
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
First picking up this book, I knew I was interested in poetry. I saw the title and was not sure what to expect. As I started reading, I learned that it was about a women's right to an education, to be treated equally and her right to choosing her own marriage. This was different than other poetry that I had read recently.

I read about a girl named Tula who loved books, education and wanted equality. Living in Cuba, she would be seen as a rebel if this was known. I learned a lot about what women
Amy Rae
I'm wobbling between three and four stars for this one. It's a quick, powerful story of a fascinating figure from Cuban history. I learned a great deal, and I loved the way Engle brought 19th-century Cuba too life. Tula's relationship with the family servant (previously slave), Caridad, was drawn out especially well.

The main thing that bugs me about it is Engle's choice to write poems from the points of view of "the nuns" and "the orphans" as a group. They feel generalized, and considering how i
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rll-538
The Lightning Dreamer, a historical novel written in Margarita Engle's notable verse, is meant as a fictional biography of the Cuban Writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Tula's mother and grandfather have arranged a marriage to an older man in exchange for wealth when she's fourteen years old. "He's promised Tula's hand to the most powerful man in town, a rich merchant who won't refuse such a beautiful young wife, along with the generous dowry my father offers in exchange for the ...more
Christina Getrost
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Beautiful book in verse, fictionalized, about the childhood of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. Takes place in 1826-29 and 1836, when she is 14,15 and 22. She lives in Cuba, loves to read and to write poetry, but is forbidden from doing so by her mother and by society, so she burns her poems after she writes them. She's free to read when she visits the local convent, but her freedom is shortlived because her mother has arranged a marriage for her to a wealthy man. She refuses to marry him and is s ...more
Jeff Zell
Nov 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: youth
The whole novel is set in poetic verse. Tula knows how to read and write but is forbidden by her mother to delve into written stories or poetry. It is a waste of time according to mother. Tula is a real historical figure. Engle offers a fictional account of how Tula came to realize her passion as a poet. Tula is Spanish and lives in Cuba. In the 19th century, Cuba was a colony of Spain. Slaves were used to do manual labor in homes and fields. Tula despised slavery at a young age. She also despis ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle is a quick and fun read. It is full of vibrant poems that tell a story of a young girl who isn't happy with her lot in like. She write poems to get her struggles out, as it seems no one around her really listens to what she says. She lives in a time where there are slaves, and in fact, her own family owns slaves. She does not agree with this, and thinks everyone should live a free life, as she feels trapped herself. As soon as she comes of age, she knows ...more
This is a young adult book written in free prose. It tells the story of a real life person named Gertrudis Gomez de Avellanedo. She belonged to the aristocracy but refused to cooperate with social norms common in Cuba at the time. In the early 19th century, she learned to read and write by sneaking books from her father's library, getting help from her older brother and enlisting nuns at a nearby convent to support a secret education and access to their library. At age 14, she refused an arrange ...more
Merrilyn Tucker
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this little novel written in verse. Tula, real name Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, is a 14-year-old Cuban girl living a life of wealth and ease. In 19th century Cuba, Tula was powerless: she had no money of her own, could not receive an education, and definitely was not invited to share her political philosophy. Tula's mother was eager to marry off Tula to a wealthy suitor so Tula's family could use the money brought in by the marriage to buy more slaves. This idea--as well as that of be ...more
Victoria Law
Why did I never hear of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda before coming across this book? A poet, feminist and abolitionist in 19th century Cuba where advocating abolition was highly illegal and resisting arranged marriages resulted in societal shunning...although a fictional telling of her life (through verse!), Engle has succeeded in making me want to seek out Gomez de Avellaneda's writings, particularly Sab, her novel that advocates that slaves should be freed & that women should choose their own ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Under the Mesquite
  • Prairie Lotus
  • Before the Ever After
  • We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
  • Blackbird Fly
  • Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein
  • The Noisy Paint Box
  • Full Cicada Moon
  • Poems to See by: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry
  • Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation
  • If Men, Then: Poems
  • Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts
  • Two Roads
  • Agnes's Place
  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • When Stars Are Scattered
  • Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments
  • Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age
See similar books…
Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.

Related Articles

  Tami Charles is a former teacher and the author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made...
44 likes · 65 comments
“I envy the trees that grow at crossroads. They are never forced to decide which way to go...” 12 likes
“Some people are born with words flowing in their veins.” 7 likes
More quotes…