Set in Cuba several generations ago, in a large family on a farm. Sometimes times are hard, or violence threatens- roving bandits threaten to steal their livestock or kidnap children for ransom. Yet they find brightness in the lovely flowers and growing things, and there’s a beautiful tradition of storytelling and writing poetry- when a young man wants to court a girl, he writes poems in her ‘album’ book. The whole story is told in verse. I don’t read many books written in poetry, so it’s nicely refreshing. From the viewpoint of young Josefa, called Fefa by her family, who struggles to read. The doctor says she has “word blindness” and will never learn. Other children- including her many siblings- tease her and assume she’s slow or unintelligent. She despairs that nobody will ever write a poem for her (eventually one person does, a grown man- is he teasing or does he have bad intentions? not clear, but it sure makes Fefa feel uncomfortable). Her mother gives her a blank book to practice writing in, and encourages her to keep trying. She gets frustrated with lack of progress though, feeling that words are elusive, wriggling and sliding like living things to evade her understanding. Then there’s a party and her older brother dances with his firearm- which accidentally goes off. Forced to rest and recuperate (lucky to be alive), he spends time patiently helping Fefa with her reading. Slowly her focus starts to show results. And when somebody breaks into their house and leaves a threatening note, Fefa’s acquired attention for detail helps them catch the perpetrator. This book had so many lovely surprises for me, images painted in the mind with words. Gave me a sprinkled depiction of Cuban culture- roasted pig feasts, caiman hunts, wide embracing families. I don’t know why I expected something a little different from the cover- something magical perhaps- but what I got was delightful. It’s based on family history of the author’s grandmother as a child, who struggled with dyslexia.