Lion Island is a book about Antonio Chuffat, a twelve-year-old of mixed ancestry, and his two Chinese-American friends, who are living in Cuba during a time of unrest. Antonio was brought to a big city in Cuba when his father wanted him to learn proper Spanish, instead of mixing it with his native language, Cantonese. His mornings are spent learning, while his afternoons are filled with his job as a messenger for Senor Lam.
Senor Lam is a businessman, involved in politics. The messages Antonio carries for him go to other businessmen, diplomats, and soldiers from two empires. Over seven years, Antonio and his father become more involved in the politics of Cuba concerning indentured servants, slaves, and war. His Chinese-American friends, Wing and Fan, also are a part of this story, as Wing eventually goes off to fight, and Fan deals with being a minority female in this era. The ultimate goal for all of them is to bring civil rights to everyone.
This book was written more as a series of poems than as a continuous story. Each 'chapter' is a page or less, telling a little bit more about life in Cuba, and gives bits and pieces of a whole. Eventually, we learn more about characters, situations, and circumstances. The characters didn’t have much detail and could have used more explanation in some parts.
The parts of the book that I disliked the most were the sentences that had capitalized words, ie: “POWER allows Spain to rule Cuba”. I didn't like the capital letters because they didn't really tell what I wanted to know. I also felt the book was confusing to read because it changed characters so often.
On the plus side, Lion Island really tells a story about slaves becoming free and what happened in olden-days Cuba. The author, Margarita Engle, chose some very descriptive words and phrases. Some people might really like this book, but personally, I don't like non-fiction stories that much. And due to the format of the book, I found it disorienting and hard to focus on the goal of the story. I would recommend this book to ages 12 and up.