Marshmallow read Esperanza Rising in school a couple years ago. She recently read this 2000 novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan again and wanted to review it today for the book bunnies blog.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family and bravery, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): In Mexico, Esperanza Ortega has lived in luxury all her life. Her father is the owner of El Rancho de los Rosas (The Ranch of Roses). She lives in a large house with servants and maids. But all of that changes when her father is killed by bandits.
During this time (early 1930s), Mexico is split between the rich and the poor. As Esperanza tells Miguel, a boy whose father works on their ranch and who Esperanza is good friends with, she and Miguel are on two sides of an uncrossable river. (At the time, Esperanza doesn’t realize how insensitive that is to say to him.)
Esperanza’s father is generous to his workers, however, the bandits don’t care. They attack when he, Miguel, and Miguel’s father are repairing a fence. After Esperanza’s father dies, his stepbrothers immediately start to try to pressure Esperanza and her mother. Her mother, Ramona, is influential and popular. Ezperanza’s half-uncles try to pressure Ramona into marrying the older uncle. If she marries him, he could win any election he wants to, which is his intention. Esperanza’s mother naturally turns him down, and he threatens her and tells her she will regret that decision.
Later, Esperanza’s house is burned down in a fire. (We are to assume the fire was caused by her uncles.) Abuelita, Esperanza’s grandmother who lives with them, is injured while escaping the fire. The older uncle proposes marriage again, and Esperanza’s mother accepts. Secretly, Esperanza’s mother and Miguel’s parents plan to flee Mexico and go to America to find work with Miguel’s relatives. Esperanza, her mother, Miguel, and his parents secretly leave Mexico. However, they are forced to leave Abuelita behind because she is unable to come with them given her injury. Abuelita plans to join them in America when she is better, using the money in her bank account. Unfortunately, the bank is owned by Esperanza’s uncles who are likely to try to prevent her from accessing her money.
In America, it is the Great Depression. Esperanza and her mother have to adjust to not living in luxury. They settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. However, Esperanza is not at all accustomed to the conditions. She doesn’t know how to wash clothes, sweep floors, or even bathe herself. She has to face financial difficulties, harsh labor, dust storms, and spiteful people. Will Esperanza be able to take all of this?
(If you don’t mind more spoilers, the Wikipedia article for the book explains a lot more of the plot. It also talks a bit more about the historical background of the story.)
Marshmallow’s Review: Esperanza Rising is a great book. It is so touching and Esperanza is such a realistic character, with all her flaws, that I really enjoyed reading it again after having read it in school two years ago.
The author did an amazing job of making the reader feel really sympathetic to Esperanza and her predicament. The author also did a great job of describing the places Esperanza sees. The descriptions in the book of the characters, places, and things are vivid and poetic.
I also liked the character development in Esperanza. I would give more descriptions about how she changed and what made her change, but that would spoil too much of the book. Suffice it to say, Esperanza changes for the better and it is interesting to see the difference in her from the beginning to later in the books.
I think that the author did a good job of making the book seem very real to the reader. I believe that some of the events in the book were very realistic. In fact, in the back of the book, the author, Pam Muñoz Ryan, writes that the book is based on her grandmother’s life. Her grandmother, Esperanza Ortega, suffered through most of the same events. Learning this made this book even more impactful and touching for me.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.