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My Progress:

14 / 30 books. 47% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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38 / 51 states. 75% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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32 / 50 books. 64% done!

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30 / 40 books. 75% done!

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11 / 25 books. 44% done!

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19 / 26.2 miles (2nd lap). 73% done!

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30 / 100 books. 30% done!

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74 / 104 books. 71% done!

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50 / 52 books. 96% done!

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87 / 165 books. 53% done!
Monday, February 01, 2021

Middle Grade Historical a Beautiful, Illuminating Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Esperanza Ortega lives a luxurious life in Mexico.  Her father is a wealthy landowner, which allows her to live in a spacious home with servants to tend to her every need.  On the eve of her 13th birthday, Esperanza is thinking only about her upcoming fiesta and all the fine presents she will receive from her loving family and friends.  When her beloved father is killed by bandits, however, everything changes.  Grief settles like a pall over the family's ranch.  With their brother out of the way, Esperanza's greedy uncles threaten to kick Esperanza and her mother off the property.  Before she knows it, they are being smuggled out of the country, headed to the United States to find their own way as migrant farm workers.  

Her shocking reversal of fortune makes Esperanza's head spin.  Once, she had her own bedroom filled with expensive toys and fancy dresses.  Now, she shares a cramped shanty with two other families.  Once, servants cleaned up after her.  Now, she does her own sweeping and washing.  Once, her father paid serfs to work in his fields.  Now, Esperanza and her mother are competing with other desperate workers to labor for pennies on someone else's farm.  As she becomes used to her shabby new life in California, Esperanza's eyes are opened to the harsh realities of life as a poverty-stricken immigrant struggling to get ahead in a foreign country already devastated by the Great Depression.  When Esperanza's mother falls desperately ill and rumors of a massive workers' strike threaten the family's only source of income, Esperanza is ready to give up.  She's already overcome so many hardships and struggles.  How can she rise above them?  Will she ever be happy again?

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan tells an unforgettable riches-to-rags story set against a memorable Great Depression backdrop.  With its focus on Mexican immigrants, the book has a unique angle that feels timely even though it's set in the past.  An atmospheric setting coupled with a cast of sympathetic characters and an engaging storytelling style make the novel an engrossing, empathy-inducing read that is as affecting as it is heartfelt.  Esperanza's growth as a character is the best part of the story as it shows her realistic progression from spoiled princess to pragmatic peasant.  While Ryan's depiction of Mexican migrant life during the Depression might not be entirely realistic (Esperanza's ability to save a large chunk of money in a short amount of time with her meager earnings seems inauthentic, for instance), it's grim enough to get her point across while remaining upbeat enough for a children's book.  Overall, Esperanza Rising is a story about hope, hard work, and finding joy in the things that really matter—family, friendship, traditions, etc.—even in the bleakest of circumstances.  It's a beautiful novel that I very much enjoyed.

A note:  I listened to Esperanza Rising on audio, with Trini Alvarado reading the book.  Her voice is smooth, soothing, and authentic as she seamlessly narrates using both Spanish and English to bring the characters and story to life.  If you're looking for a new book to listen to an audio, I would absolutely recommend this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, although it's an adult book and much bleaker than Esperanza RisingThe Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros are also great middle-grade reads about the plight of Mexican immigrants in modern America)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, scenes of peril, and difficult subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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