Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
BIBLIO:2000 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 8 and up, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Chapter Book
A charming riches to rags tale about a young girl named Esperanza quickly grabs the heartstrings of its readers. This also can be categorized as a coming of age novel as the reader follows Esperanza for her whole thirteenth year. The focus of this story is on Esperanza and her family from El Rancho de La Rosas and from the Labor Camp. The book starts by showing Esperanza’s privilege and her excitement about her thirteenth birthday. The reader is introduced to her loving Papa and graceful Mama and quirky Abuelita. The servants Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel are also introduced as loyal workers and close family friends. Tragedy occurs when Papa is attacked by bandits on the edge of their property. The whole ranch falls apart and Esperanza’s uncles look to gain power and money from their brothers’ demise. When Mama rebuffs Uncle Luis’s proposal he burns down the vineyards and their beloved home. He also makes it difficult for them to escape to the United States.
Alfonso’s brother works in the migrant camp and arranged for all of them to arrive but Abuelita is too weak to accompany them and must stay under the peril of the uncles. The group successfully move to the migrant camp and Esperanza struggles to adapt to living in the poverty of migrant labor but also in the midst of the great depression. She quickly realizes how little she knows about life but she has her new family Josefina, Juan, Isabel, Lupe, Pepe, and those she traveled with to teach her and she soon becomes rich with experiences.
Throughout the novel there are a lot of tribulations in addition to those mentioned. Mama gets sick and depressed and must live in the hospital away from Esperanza and their family. Esperanza begins to work with the women of the family in the sheds to pack produce and support her mother’s medical bills and those who care for her. There is also a lot of talk about striking, the Oklahoma migrants coming from the Midwest in hopes of a new life after living in the dustbowl. There is also an underlying theme of social prejudice and sketchy government behavior such as the Deportation Act.
This book is touching and worth reading. It won the Pura Belpre Award and for good reason. It shows fabulously the life of a minority group in a realistic and personally touching way.