A young girl’s greatest fear is the loneliness of horselessness.
The story starts as the Spanish-American War ends. Estrellita is a young girl afflicted by rickets due to the lack of sunshine and proper nutrition experienced during the war when she and her mother were forced to remain hidden in a cave. Now out of the cave and in the city, Estrellita meets a man who rewards her imaginative storytelling by allowing her to groom his horses, and she eventually learns to ride. When a colt is born and becomes hers, a bond is forged between the two. Eventually Estrellita, the horse—Lucero, or Morning Star—and a large group of Cuban children end up at a progressive theosophist school in California. Horse and rider are separated, and by the time they reunite, the horse has grown wings and can fly. Engle combines a too-large number of intriguing though disparate elements as she works from beginning to unsatisfying ending: Cuban lore, alternative education, physical disabilities, a love of horses, magical flights in the air and underwater, mistrust, bullying, anger, bewilderment, and punishment. The resulting story is one that rambles more than it makes sense. The Spanish translation runs in parallel to the English text on facing pages; though for the most part it’s correct, it is at times too wordy, leading to awkwardness.
Readers looking for a story involving horses, magic, or a bit of Cuban history will do better looking elsewhere. (author’s note) (Historical verse novel. 10-13)