Review: The Poetry of Secrets

 The Poetry of Secrets

by Cambria Gordon

Scholastic Press

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Cheryl Fox Strausberg

Buy at

Isabel Perez is a 16 year old in Trujillo, Spain in 1481. While she longs to be a poetess, she faces the reality that she is of marriageable age and her parents are antsy to get her married off. Especially since her family is hiding a dark secret: they are Jewish. This dual life they lead makes them cautious about the people they come into contact with and motivates them to arrange Isabel’s marriage with a secure Old Christian family. It becomes even more urgent once it is clear that the Inquisition is coming.

One fateful day on her way home from a poetry reading, Isabel meets a good looking young man. Diego is equally as intrigued about Isabel, and the two begin meeting in secret and eventually fall in love. Diego, from impeccable Old Christian lineage, knows that his family will never consent for him to marry a New Christian girl, but continues to hope that someday he will be able to marry Isabel.

Meanwhile, Jewish and New Christian families are being targeted by the Inquisition. Despite the risks to herself and her family, Isabel continues her life as before: writing poetry, studying Torah with her grandmother, meeting Diego in secret, and visiting her openly Jewish friends. As her wedding day approaches, she must decide if her future includes keeping her true self hidden or whether she will risk everything to be with the man she loves. She faces down the demons of the Inquisition and makes a startling choice that will define her future and the future of her family.

This book is a good introduction to Jewish life during the Spanish Inquisition. It has an explanation of Judaism, especially the Sephardic Judaism practiced during medieval Spain. Readers familiar with Jewish practices may find some of the explanation extensive and dry. However, the plot is paced well enough to keep the reader’s interest. It is well written and there is a recommended reading list at the end of the book. Caution should be taken for sensitive readers as several characters are subjected to torture. The book does end happily for our main characters in a way that readers who enjoy over-the-top romantic melodrama will appreciate. This book does meet the criteria to be considered for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. All in all, a promising effort by an emerging author.
Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Cheryl Fox Strausberg is the Upper School Library Media Specialist at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. An avid reader and traveler, she can be found posting her opinions about her favorite books at or on twitter at @cfslibrarian