Daily Archives: April 10, 2010

Return to Sender

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is the story of a boy whose family farm is in jeopardy after his grandfather dies and his father is injured.  In order to save the farm, his family hires undocumented Mexican migrant workers.  So this is also the Mexicans’ story, told partly from the perspective of the oldest of the three daughters, who is in the same class as the boy.

This is another YA book club pick.  I snagged a copy on Monday at 4pm; by the time I went to bed Tuesday at 11pm, I was done.  The short chapters and vivid storytelling made the pages fly by.  There were times when the vehicle for the story felt forced; Alvarez uses lots of letters and diary entries to show the perspective of the girl, and then switches back to straight-up third-person narrative for the boy’s story, but overall it worked pretty well.

I also noticed that my copy was marked J Fic, but I don’t think it would work for kids younger than 5th grade at the outside (and of course it depends on the kid).  The bad parts are realistic enough and numerous enough; the good, lucky, warm-fuzzy parts are a bit unbelievable – but then again, so is luck.  The graphic parts (the mother is kidnapped by coyotes and mistreated) allude to the worst of it; someone who reads this at age ten or eleven would re-read it as an adult with an entirely different understanding due to Alvarez’s deft use of ellipses and keen ear for dialogue.

On a personal note, having participated in those protests for immigration reform in Washington, it was very interesting to read how they were woven into the narrative of these families in Vermont, and how they were viewed by those so far away.  It’s also amazing to me that something that happened just four or five years ago is already history – and something that the next generation will likely not be aware of having happened and will need to re-learn later (if ever).

(Incidentally, I am unable to think of this author’s name pronounced as the English Julia – she is always “Hulia” to me!)