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