Set in Cuba, The Firefly Letters weaves together four voices: Fredrika the foreign traveler, Cecilia the wealthy daughter of the house, Elana the slave girl and Beni, Elana’s husband. It is interesting to watch the dynamics of power between characters and the social structures of Cuba. Those we assume have power are often powerless in certain situations. All the voices represent someone who is or has been enslaved. The idea of freedom is explored. Elana remarks that she is jealous of Elana, a slave, because Elana is free to explore the countryside with Fredrika while she, Cecilia, is not allowed to venture out. Yet, Elana is forced to labor when and where her master commands. The story ends with a struggle wherein the characters work together to find their own freedom.
As a piece of historical fiction, The Firefly Letters shines. But like fireflies, the illumination is brief as this is a short novel in verse. I found the story interesting but would have liked a longer narrative with a chance for deeper character development. I felt Cecilia's transformation was quick and so rather unlikely. However, the four voices offer distinct and insightful perspectives on freedom and Engle captures Cuba’s landscape to great effect. The Firefly Letters won the Pura Belpré Honor in 2011. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!
Publisher: Henry Holt, 2010 Pages: 160 Full Title: The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba Rating: 3 Stars Source: Public Library