Told in a lyrical, fairy tale-like style, Ryan's (Riding Freedom) robust novel set in 1930 captures a Mexican girl's fall from riches, her immigration to California and her growing awareness of class and ethnic tensions. Thirteen-year-old Esperanza Ortega and her family are part of Mexico's wealthy, land-owning class in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Her father is a generous and well-loved man who gives his servants land and housing. Early in the novel, bandits kill Esperanza's father, and her corrupt uncles threaten to usurp their home. Their servants help her and her mother flee to the United States, but they must leave Esperanza's beloved Abuelita (grandmother) behind until they can send for her.
Ryan poetically conveys Esperanza's ties to the land by crafting her story to the rhythms of the seasons. Each chapter's title takes its name from the fruits Esperanza and her countrymen harvest, first in Aguascalientes, then in California's San Joaquin Valley. Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events (Mexico's post-revolution tensions, the arrival of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl victims and the struggles between the U.S. government and Mexican workers trying to organize) with one family's will to survive--while introducing readers to Spanish words and Mexican customs.
Readers will be swept up by vivid descriptions of California dust storms or by the police crackdown on a labor strike ("The picket signs lay on the ground, discarded, and like a mass of marbles that had already been hit, the strikers scattered..."). Ryan delivers subtle metaphors via Abuelita's pearls of wisdom, and not until story's end will readers recognize how carefully they have been strung. Ages 9-14. (Oct.)
--Publishers Weekly, October 9, 2000--starred review
Moving from a Mexican ranch to the company labor camps of California, Ryan's lyrical new novel manages the contradictory: a story of migration and movement deeply rooted in the earth. When 14-year-old Esperanza's father is killed, she and her mother must emigrate to the U.S., where a family of former ranch workers has helped them find jobs in the agricultural labor camps. Coming from such privilege, Esperanza is ill prepared for the hard work and difficult conditions she now faces. She quickly learns household chores, though, and when her mother falls ill, she works packing produce until she makes enough money to bring her beloved abuelita to the U.S.. Set during the Great Depression, the story weaves cultural, economic, and political unrest into Esperanza's poignant story of growing up: she witnesses strikes, government sweeps, and deep injustice while finding strength and love in her family and romance with a childhood friend. The symbolism is heavy-handed, as when Esperanza ominously pricks her finger on a rose th6me just before her father is killed. But Ryan writes a moving story in clear, poetic4anguage that children will sink into, and the books offers excellent opportunities for discussion and curriculum support. -Gillian Engberg
---Booklist, December 1, 2000
After a fire destroys their home and belongings, Esperanza (Hope) and her mother must flee their native Mexico to the United States with the help of their housekeeper and her family. The formerly wealthy Ortega women are now "peasants" and must work to survive. Despite the difficulties of life at the camp, Esperanza learns to work, to care for others, and to give rather than take. When her mother becomes ill and is hospitalized, Esperanza is alone except for the companionship of her friend and former servant Miguel, and his family. After a year, on the eve of Esperanza's fourteenth birthday, her beloved grandmother arrives from Mexico, Mama is released from the hospital and the little family is reunited. Now Esperanza is rising above circumstances, filled with dreams and possibilities. Numerous truths, lessons, Spanish terms, and symbols that include a crocheted blanket, rose cuttings, and a river
"With a hint of magical realism, this robust novel set in 1930 captures a Mexican girl's fall from riches and her immigration to California," said PW in our Best Books citation. Ages 8-12. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Gr 6-9-Inspired by her grandmother's immigration stories, Pamela Mu-oz Ryan (Scholastic 2000) offers valuable glimpses of the lives of Mexican-American farm workers during the Depression. When her father dies, 13-year-old Esperanza and her mother are forced to abandon their privileged lives and move to California. At first the proud girl is appalled that they must share a cramped row house and work at menial jobs, but when her mother becomes gravely ill, she learns the value of generous friends and her own inner resources. This coming-of-age story also looks at the economic and social issues of that era, and the author's note adds valuable factual information. Trini Alvarado's narration is adroit and melodic as she handles text that skillfully intersperses Spanish phrases and songs. Pairing this story with Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Cat Running (Delacorte, 1994) will give listeners broader insights into the difficulties of the 1930's. This recording is a solid choice for all elementary and middle school audiobook collections, and a necessity for libraries serving Spanish-speaking populations.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The author of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (1999) and Riding Freedom (1997) again approaches historical fiction, this time using her own grandmother as source material. In 1930, Esperanza lives a privileged life on a ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico. But when her father dies, the post-Revolutionary culture and politics force her to leave with her mother for California. Now they are indebted to the family who previously worked for them, for securing them work on a farm in the San Joaquin valley. Esperanza balks at her new situation, but eventually becomes as accustomed to it as she was in her previous home, and comes to realize that she is still relatively privileged to be on a year-round farm with a strong community. She sees migrant workers forced from their jobs by families arriving from the Dust Bowl, and camps of strikersmany of them US citizensdeported in the "voluntary repatriation" that sent at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans back to Mexico in the early 1930s. Ryan's narrative has an epic tone, characters that develop little and predictably, and a romantic patina that often undercuts the harshness of her story. But her style is engaging, her characters appealing, and her story is one thatthough a deep-rooted part of the history of California, the Depression, and thus the nationis little heard in children's fiction. It bears telling to a wider audience. (author's note) (Fiction. 9-15)Sills, Leslie IN REAL LIFE: Six Women Photographers Holiday House (80 pp.) Oct. 15, 2000