The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

This story in verse is based on the 19th century travel diaries of Fredrika Bremer, daughter
of a wealthy Swedish family who chafes under her parents' strictures regarding behavior and physical appearance. Preferring to write and draw, she rebels against the ballet lessons and tiny food portions
meant to keep her figure slim and attractive to prospective husbands. Knowing that to follow her dream of independence means the end of her relationship with her family, she strikes out on her own, visiting
America and then Cuba. While she loves the warm sunny island life, she is horrified by the slavery. She will become one of the first advocates for women's rights.

Cecilia is only 8 when her Congolese father trades her to a slaver for a cow. She has repressed the memory of her trip across the Atlantic, but now, at 15, she belongs to a wealthy Cuban family who values her for her ability to translate English to Spanish. She still remembers her mother's wail as she was led away to the slaver's ship. Now, married and pregnant, she has little hope for the baby that will be born into slavery.

Elena is the 12-year-old daughter of the Cuban plantation family who owns Cecilia and who will be hosting Fredrika when she visits the island. Elena cannot imagine what it must be like to travel independently, as she herself is seldom allowed to leave her house, and then not without her mother in
attendance. She spends her days in her room, embroidering endless lengths of linen and silk for her hope chest, and watching enviously from her window as Fredrika and Cecilia enjoy the fireflies in the evenings outside. Her future holds little for her beyond an early marriage to a man of her father's choosing.

Fredrika sweeps into the lives of Cecilia and Elena, shaking the status quo. Her stories of her travels
inspire Elena; she takes Cecilia with her as companion and translator during her stay, and boldly goes off to the rural countryside to live in a hut among the “freed slaves.” Timid Elena becomes emboldened enough to sneak out at night and join the firefly watching. Together, they hatch a plan to help Cecilia's unborn baby. Fredrika will leave the island knowing she hasn't stopped the slave trade, but she has
created a ripple that may widen. Elena may no longer be the timid creature she was before Fredrika's visit. And Cecilia lives with hope for the first time.

The three women take turns telling this story, revealing to the reader their gradual growth. Although
the two younger girls may seem quite different on the surface, they are, in truth, both looked upon as objects by the men who “own” them, through slavery or marriage. Fredrika helps both of them see
this truth.

The author's language is spare, yet every word strikes a chord. Reluctant readers may be drawn to the
short lines and generous white space on each page, but they will find themselves hanging on each line. This simply told tale proves there is power in gentleness. 151 pages include an author's brief note on the background of Fredrika Bremer and several references. This should appeal to a wide variety of middle and high school girls.

Reviewed by Jane Behrens, High School Librarian, Iowa

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