cover image The Wild Book

The Wild Book

Margarita Engle. Harcourt, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-547-58131-6

Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, Engle’s (Hurricane Dancers) novel-in-verse is told in the voice of Josefa, an 11-year-old living in the Cuban countryside in the early 20th century, following the war for independence from Spain and U.S. occupation of the island. It’s a turbulent time, with roaming bandits kidnapping children for ransom, but Fefa (as she’s called) is preoccupied with her “word blindness,” what is now called dyslexia. To help Fefa overcome her struggle to read and write, her poetry-loving mother gives her the wild book of the title, a blank book in which Fefa can practice “taming” the letters and words that seem to wriggle away as she tries to read them. “Throw wildflower seeds/ all over each page,” her mother suggests. “Let the words sprout/ like seedlings,/ then relax and watch/ as your wild diary/ grows.” Fefa persists until her disability is under control, but the denouement, in which a poem written by an unwelcome suitor saves Fefa’s family from harm, feels contrived. Engle’s writing is customarily lovely, but the plot is too thin to leave much of an impression. Ages 10–14. (Mar.)