In 2018, 16-year-old Soleida and her artist parents defy Ley Decree 349, in which the Cuban government criminalizes dissident art in the country’s new constitution. Soleida and her parents are acutely aware that if government officials discover their secret garden filled with sculptures of chained birds, they will be arrested and imprisoned. When a hurricane devastates the nation and the sculptures are revealed to the public, Soleida’s worst nightmare is realized – her parents are arrested and she is forced to flee her homeland. After a dangerous, months-long journey, Soleida arrives in Costa Rica and joins thousands of other Cuban refugees living in limbo as they apply to seek asylum in other nations.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Dariel, a Cuban American teen, joins his grandfather – abuelo – on a trip from Miami, Fla., to the refugee camp where Soleida is staying. Abuelo is intent on documenting the stories of Cuban refugees, past and present, and publishing them in a book. When Dariel and Soleida meet, they realize they are united in their passion for music, art, human rights, and environmental justice. To their surprise, they begin to trust each other and fall in love despite the angst they feel about the state of the world.
Written in free verse and alternating between Soleida and Dariel’s voices, author Margarita Engle’s poignant narrative captures the angst and hope that fuel two teens’ present goals and future dreams. Though recommended for children ages 12 and up, the book is better suited to ages 14 and older. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)