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About The Book

This gorgeously romantic contemporary novel-in-verse from award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the “inspiring and hopeful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) love story of two teens fighting for climate action and human rights.

Winged beings are meant to be free. And so are artists, but the Cuban government has criminalized any art that doesn’t meet their approval. Soleida and her parents protest this injustice with their secret sculpture garden of chained birds. Then a hurricane exposes the illegal art, and her parents are arrested.

Soleida escapes to Central America alone, joining the thousands of Cuban refugees stranded in Costa Rica while seeking asylum elsewhere. There she meets Dariel, a Cuban American boy whose enigmatic music enchants birds and animals—and Soleida.

Together they work to protect the environment and bring attention to the imprisoned artists in Cuba. Soon they discover that love isn’t about falling—it’s about soaring together to new heights. But wings can be fragile, and Soleida and Dariel come from different worlds. They are fighting for a better future—and the chance to be together.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Wings in the Wild

By Margarita Engle​

About the Book

They are from different worlds: Soleida lives in Cuba where her artist parents defy the government’s censorship. Cuban American Dariel lives in Southern California, where his parents are telenovela stars. But the climate crisis capsizes both of their lives. A storm destroys Soleida’s house and exposes her parents’ controversial art, leading to their arrest. A fire destroys Dariel’s house, leaving him at loose ends. When Soleida seeks safety in a refugee camp in Costa Rica, and Dariel travels there with his musician abuelo, the two teenagers meet and fall in love. But how can love endure in a world steeped in crisis?

Discussion Questions

1. Describe Soleida when the book opens. What is her living situation? What matters to her? What does she worry about? Then describe her at the end of the novel in Costa Rica. What is she doing? What major changes have taken place in her life?

2. Why doesn’t Soleida get off the plane to be with her parents? How does she feel about her decision? Do you think she made the right choice? What might have happened to her if she’d stayed in Cuba?

3. How did Soleida get to Costa Rica, and how did she come to be at Mireya’s home? Why had she been with Vivi, and what happened to her? How did the journey change her emotionally?

4. What are the problems Dariel sees in his life when he’s first introduced in the novel? What does he see as the good things in his life? What appears to be magic about his music? Describe the fire and its effects on him. How does he end up going to Costa Rica?

5. Talk about Dariel’s abuelo and his role in Dariel’s life. How did his grandfather come to live in Miami? What had he done in Cuba? Why does he want to go to Costa Rica? Why do you think he lies about Soleida having a permit to visit Mireya?

6. Compare and contrast Soleida’s parents with Dariel’s parents. What do they have in common? What are some of the differences in their lives? How and why do Dariel’s parents seem to have changed by the end?

7. The author’s note gives further explanation about Ley Decree 349. What is it? Why did it come into effect? What is the government afraid of? How does it affect Soleida’s parents? Who are las damas de blanco?

8. How do Soleida and Dariel meet? Why does Soleida keep her distance from him at first? What makes her change her mind? What are some possible obstacles to the two of them staying together in the future?

9. Describe Mireya’s background and how Ley Decree 349 affected her. How did she come to live in Costa Rica? What does she do there? How do she and her family treat Soleida and Dariel?

10. Why does Soleida feel betrayed when she learns about Dariel’s parents and background? Explain the rift between them and how they get back together.

11. Social justice is a strong theme in the novel. What does Dariel do to try to help Soleida’s parents? How does his parents’ position help in his pursuit? Discuss his use of social media.

12. Why are Dariel and Soleida scared of climate change? Why does Dariel describe his feelings as “explosive climate rage”? (Shelter). How are Mireya and her husband involved in fighting the climate crisis? How do Soleida and Dariel start helping them?

13. Discuss the poem “Between Kisses,” in which Dariel says, “We already live / in a sci-fi world / of burning continents / and sinking islands / so now our hopes / are surrealistic too.” How does the poem reflect his and Soleida’s concerns? How do they hope to incorporate music, art, and working against the world’s drastic climate change as they go forward?

14. Why are there so many refugees in Costa Rica? Where have they come from? Where do they hope to end up, and why? Why wouldn’t Nicaragua allow them to cross the border? Why did Costa Rica let them stay? Describe life in the refugee camp as experienced by Soleida.

15. When Dariel is surrounded by children and creatures drawn to his music, Soleida describes his music as “the only enchantment needed / for communication beyond / ordinary language.” (Guitar Magnet) Talk about the power of music to communicate without words. What are some of the emotions it can communicate? Discuss the role of music in Dariel’s life and in your own life.

16. How are the binoculars symbolic of the relationship between Soleida and Dariel? In the poem “First Touch,” when Dariel first gives binoculars to Soleida to use, he hopes “she / might find some comfort / in those two little circles / of altered vision.” Discuss that poem and the following one titled “Binoculars,” and connect the poems to the growing connection between Soleida and Dariel.

17. Explain how birds are central to the novel in terms of the setting, Soleida’s life, Dariel’s music, and activism around the climate crisis? How are they important as symbols, including the scarlet macaws and the quetzal?

Extension Activities

1. Artists in Danger: Share with the class this short Human Rights Watch video about government targeting of artists and musicians in Cuba in 2021. Hold a discussion tying it into the novel, including the use of social media in the video. Talk about why governments suppress freedom of expression.

https://hrw.org/video-photos/video/2021/06/30/what-cuba-doesnt-want-you-know-about-its-artists-and-musicians

2. Role Model Countries: Dariel refers to Costa Rica as “a role model” in reforestation, “doubling / its forested areas in only thirty years.” (Climate Action Youth Conference) In pairs or individually, have students research efforts such as this to prevent and combat the climate crisis, looking at different strategies from countries around the world. Students should choose a particular effort in a country and create a multimedia presentation to share with the class that includes facts, explanations, and images.

3. Classroom Aviary: Wings in the Wild mentions and sometimes describes many birds. As a class, make a list of each bird mentioned and its description, if provided. Then pairs of students should each choose a different bird from the list to research. They should incorporate an image and information about the bird on a poster. The posters can create a visual classroom aviary.

4. Ideal Ancestor: A Métis speaker at the Climate Action Youth Conference asks participants what sort of ancestor they want to be. Ask each student to write an essay about what this question means and how they would answer it for themselves.

5. Refugee Crisis: Dariel describes how in Costa Rica “refugees wait in jungle camps.” (Pity at First Sight) Soleida, who’s in such a camp, lists countries that “la caravana of desperate refugees” (Walking with Poetry) are from. Have students research refugees and displaced people around the world, why they have lost their homes, where they live, and their possible futures. Each student should bring five facts to a class discussion about this international crisis.

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry

About The Author

Photograph (c) Shevaun Williams

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels Rima’s RebellionYour Heart, My SkyWith a Star in My HandThe Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, which received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture books include Drum Dream GirlDancing Hands, and The Flying Girl. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (April 18, 2023)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665926386
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

* "Masterful storyteller Engle uses non-rhyming verse in concise stanzas, isolating single words for emphasis. Told in alternating chapters, lyrical verse flows in evocative forms. . . Readers who enjoyed Engle’s past works will get swept away, and new readers are given many points of entrance and connection in this relevant and poignant work. Hand to fans of Ellen Hagan’s Don’t Call Me a Hurricane."

– School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"Engle weaves a compelling love story balanced with an invitation to readers to consider the impact of climate change and the necessity for action now. She populates her poetry with vivid descriptions of many colorful bird species alongside lyrical references to musicians and poets giving us 'something magical and scientific / at the same time.' "

– The Horn Book Magazine

"Pura Belpré winner Engle touches on topical climate and social issues in her newest verse novel, told from two viewpoints during 2018 and 2019. . . Drawing on their talents for music and art, both teens beautifully and uniquely express themselves as their romance unfolds amid real-world catastrophes. Readers will admire the determination of both young activists as they rebel to make the world a safer place to inhabit. A must-buy. . ."

– Booklist

"Employing stunningly immersive verse and distinct alternating perspectives, Engle sets Soleida and Dariel’s developing relationship against a backdrop of advocacy to present a profoundly romantic read that prioritizes topical issues, such as environmental and refugee crises, and political oppression of artists."

– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"This novel-in-verse exposes readers to the realities of Cuban refugees in South America and the persecution they faced in their home county. . . It is also a story of hope. Hope in a younger generation which is fighting for climate change and for reforestation. And, finally, it is a story of love. . . Highly Recommended."

– School Library Connection 

*"Luscious verse and beautiful descriptions of the flora and fauna bring attention to the impacts of the climate crisis and the urgent need for change. Inspiring and hopeful; young love and the call to action resonate."

– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

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