With her signature narrative grace, Edwidge Danticat brings Haiti's beautiful queen Anacaona to life. Queen Anacaona was the wife of one of her island's rulers, and a composer of songs and poems, making her popular among her people. Haiti was relatively quiet until the Spanish conquistadors discovered the island and began to settle there in 1492. The Spaniards treated the natives very cruelly, and when the natives revolted, the Spanish governor of Haiti ordered the arrests of several native nobles, including Anacaona, who was eventually captured and executed, to the horror of her people.
Gr. 5-8. In her second novel for young people, part of the Royal Diaries series, Danticat writes a gripping story that shows European invasion from a native Caribbean viewpoint. In fifteenth-century Haiti, Anacaona is part of a royal lineage that rules the Taino people. After her coming-of-age ceremony, she marries a neighboring chief and learns battle techniques to defend against warring tribes. Then "pale men" arrive from Europe. Although Anacaona's people win a vicious battle against the Spanish explorers, children who read the epilogue will learn about the ultimate devastation that Europeans brought to the island worlds. The diary format raises several issues. A preface acknowledges that Anacaona, whose society had no written language, wouldn't have kept a diary. Also, the text is filled with long, purposeful explanations of Taino customs, which prompts questions about the division between factual and fictional content, as will some of the extensive back matter. Still, readers will connect with Danticat's immediate, poetic language, Anacaona's finely drawn growing pains, and the powerful, graphic story that adds a vital perspective to the literature about Columbus and European expansion in the Americas. —Gillian Engberg