Pura Belpré Award Winner
Recommended for grades 4-7
Why, oh, why, did I wait this long to read Esperanza Rising?! Pam Muñoz Ryan is brilliant with her prose and her characters are so real and as a reader I connected with Esperanza—sometimes feeling my heart twist and other times, becoming flustered with her attitude. Yet, I was able to reel back and recognize that her ignorance at the life led by field workers was because she had only known a life of privilege. For Esperanza to go through such tragedy in a book and yet make it through all of it being that much stronger a person is inspiring. Then to read Ryan’s author’s note and realize that these events were loosely based off her grandmother’s life makes the story just that much more passionate.
In the beginning, Esperanza has it all on her Mexican homestead—loving parents who dote on her, servants, Abuelita by her side, a fine education, close friends, and a magnificent land and house to live. This all suddenly changes when her Papa is killed and her selfish uncles arrange for her house and the grapes that supply her family’s income to be burned to the ground. Thank goodness for Hortensia and Alfonso, who help Esperanza and Ramona, her mother, escape to California with them. Though, Esperanza does not appreciate the small miracles and kindnesses granted to her at first.
Once they reach the workers camp, Esperanza must adjust to the conditions of one who is poor. She is laughed at in the beginning for being ignorant of such simple things as knowing how to sweep. But, soon, Esperanza is taking care of household business for her adoptive extended family—Mama, Hortensia, Alfonso, Miguel (her lifelong friend), Juan, Josefina, Isabel and the twins (Juan and Josefina’s children). Once Mama falls sick and must be taken to the hospital, Esperanza realizes that she needs to work in the shed/fields to bring in the money to support her family and bring Abuelita to her Mama.
The historical aspect of the novel plays out with the field workers, when some simply want to keep their jobs to feed their families and others want to strike because of the unfair working conditions. In fact, the striking workers turn against the others by slipping in rats and razors in the crates of fruits or vegetables the women are to pack. Things come to a head, when the lane owners send immigration services to ship all the Hispanics back to Mexico—even if they’ve never been to Mexico because they are U.S. born citizens.
There is a delightful, yet tense friendship between Miguel and Esperanza that one realizes has slowly bloomed into a romance after the most gracious gesture Miguel bestows upon Esperanza of going back to Mexico and retrieving her Abuelita. This, of course made me cry for the rest of the novel. The story ends on a high note with Esperanza passing down Abuelita’s words of wisdom, “Do not ever be afraid to start over.”
Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York, NY: Scholastic.