Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist Margarita Engle describes this book as a "history in verse." The story takes place during in Cuba during the nation's struggle for independence in the second half of the 19th century.
The main character is based on a real historical figure - legendary healer Rosario Castellanos Castellanos (known as Rosa la Bayamesa). Rosa is a freed slave - although not recognized as free by the Spanish government, and so she is persecuted as a runaway. She hides out in a cave in the forest, using her knowledge of traditional medicine to heal injured rebels, runaway slaves, and Spanish soldiers alike. She does not turn anyone away.
The story is told in short poems from different perspectives including that of Rosa, her husband Jose, her young apprentice Sylvia, a slave catcher nicknamed Lieutenant Death, and others. The Surrender Tree is a beautiful book. The characters are compelling and the descriptions of Cuba's natural landscape, and its flora and fauna, are full of wonder. There are very real and desperate injustices remembered in this story, but the depiction of such heroes as Rosa la Bayamesa leaves the reader hopeful.
This winner of the Pura Belpre Award and Newbery Honor Award is highly recommended!