Henry Holt Books For Young Readers
198 pgs (Author notes included)
Daniel's parents get enough money together to send him to America to escape the Holocaust. His ship gets turned away from New York and he ends up in Cuba. In Cuba, he meets Paloma and David, two people who help him keep hope alive that one day he will be re-united with his parents.
Tropical Secrets is a verse novel told in alternating voices. We hear from Daniel, the main character, David, an older refugee, Paloma, a Cuban who tries to help the refugees, and El Gordo, Paloma's father.
Tropical Secrets is historical fiction that takes place over almost three years. We arrive in Cuba with Daniel in June of 1939. He slowly learns to fit in: accepting clothing and food from David and Paloma. David has been in Cuba a long time and sells ice cream while Paloma's father is a crooked official who takes money to let the ships land in Cuba.
The alternating voices were jarring to me. I felt that once I was "into" a character and hearing their voice, the story shifted to someone else and I would have to work my way back into that voice. It was helpful that the speaker's names were listed when they spoke but it was also intrusive because even if the next page was the same speaker, the name was listed again.
The story itself was fascinating. I hadn't realized how many people were turned away from the USA and Canada during the war. Can you imagine if your boat was sent back? Margarita Engle was able to extract some beauty from this tragedy. Here are some lines that resonated with me:
"...there are always the drums of passing footsteps..."
"Joy and truth both have a way of peeking through any dark curtain."
"...the boy lost somewhere between the torment of memory and a few fragile shards of hope."
Overall I found this short tale engaging. It offers another view of the Holocaust which I believe students will want to read. Eighth graders will read Night by Elie Wiesel and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I'll offer this one through book talks. I give it four copies.