Henry Holt, 2009
Overall Grade: A
Daniel is a young German Jewish refugee, seeking harbor in the last haven available to him and his countrymen: Cuba. Paloma is the daughter of the Cuban official who decides which refugees will be given assistance...and which will be returned to Nazi Germany to face their deaths. As the years pass and the two become friends, their lives change with the tide of war: when the United States enter the war, all Japanese and non-Jewish Germans (even if they are spouses of Jews) are rounded up and arrested. Daniel must risk his own safety to keep others from suffering from the prejudice and danger he has known for so long.
Told in first-person free verse, using alternating viewpoints between Daniel and Paloma (and a couple others, briefly), Tropical Secrets is a beautifully told, exceptionally crafted story of a little-known aspect of history. Margarita Engle uses free verse to her advantage; whereas some free verse "poets" seem to randomly arrange prose sentences to resemble something greater than it is, Ms Engle chooses her words carefully and artistically. In addition, the plot of Tropical Secrets is appropriate to the length and style of a free verse novel, simple enough to be told completely and rich enough to benefit from the stylized language.
But we wonder why the name was chosen... ??? It makes the book sound more like a history text than a novel in verse...which is a grave injustice.
Literary Quality: A
Descriptive Ability: A+
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A
Possibly objectionable topics*: separation of family due to war, religious prejudice