About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

#88 - Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan (New York: Scholastic Press, 2000)

Jacket Summary: "Esperanza Ortega possesses all the treasures a young girl could want: fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants in the bountiful region of Aguascalientes, Mexico, and the promise of one day rising to Mama's position and presiding over all of El Rancho de las Rosas.

"But a sudden tragedy shatters that dream, forcing Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. There they confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression. When Mama falls ill from Valley Fever, and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must relinquish her hold on the past and learn to embrace a future ripe with the riches of family and community."

Opening Line: "'Our land is alive, Esperanza,' said Papa, taking her small hand as they walked through the gentle slope of the vineyard.

My Take: I think this is a first: I read this book because my daughter recommended it. Not surprisingly, I wasn't disappointed -- not because Twig has such impeccable taste (I am, after all, her mother), but because it combines several themes I usually enjoy reading about: coming of age, poverty and inequality, immigration, and even labor issues. It's a young adult novel, and not a very long one at that; I think I polished it off in about an hour last night. Liked the story itself, liked the chat Twig and I had about it on our walk home from church this morning. (Wow, how middle American does that sound?) Some of our favorite parts, to whet your appetite:
  • The painstaking efforts made by Alfonso and Miguel (the Ortegas' most trusted servants, who decide to emigrate to California in the wake of Sr. Ortega's murder rather than remain on the ranch to work for his brother) to bring a root ball from the Rancho de las Rosas' signature roses to the labor camp that becomes their new home;
  • Esperanza's visceral terror and disgust at having to sit in the peasant car on their train journey;
  • The unexpected generosity of Carmen, an egg seller Mama and Esperanza meet on the train. Though she herself is a poor widow with many children to support, she gives Mama two hens of her own on hearing the Ortegas' story -- and goes on to give an even poorer beggar woman food and coins after they get off the train.
  • The bathing scene, in which the men folk are sent out of the house so that all the women can enjoy the luxury of an all-too-rare hot bath. Esperanza goes from standing with her arms outstretched, automatically expecting Hortensia (Alfonso's wife and Miguel's mother) to undress and bathe her as she's always done before, to enjoying the camaraderie of the steamy room and personally making sure Hortensia has the hottest water.
  • Esperanza and Mama's joy and disbelief at seeing Abuelita again after nearly a year has gone by.
If you are a young adult, have one at home, or just plain like stories like this, do read this one. You won't be disappointed, either.

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