Marshmallow reviews Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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 reviews Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Marshmallow reviews Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

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 is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Marshmallow is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

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%. 

Marshmallow rates Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan 100%.
Marshmallow rates Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan 100%.

Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz

Today Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz, published in February 2022.

The book bunnies received this book as a review copy.

Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz.
Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, friendship, and school, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Autumn Blake’s father left her, her sister, and her mother to work in the Peace Corps. He wanted to “seize the day”, but Autumn doesn’t see why he has to go to Ecuador with the Peace Corps to do so. Now she, her sister Pickle, and her mother are living without her father.

Her father is not the only important person who has left Autumn. Her best friend Prisha has also just moved to California. So Autumn is starting middle school without a good friend.

The book starts on the first day of school. Autumn is starting sixth grade and neither her father nor her best friend will be there. But it turns out that the first day is still quite eventful.

On that first day of school, a boy runs over an iguana’s tail. Autumn and the boy, named Cooper, take the iguana to the veterinarian. Autumn’s mom is the vet, and she starts to try to save the iguana. Autumn then starts spending time with Cooper every day at lunch, and they become friends quickly. They decide to do a whoopie pie stand to raise money to take care of Cooper’s dog, Mr. Magoo. 

On that first day of school, Autumn also makes friends with a girl named Logan. Logan’s mother is a famous human rights lawyer. Logan is nice, but Autumn feels that everything she does is forced: her smile, her words, her agreements.

Unfortunately, Logan dislikes Cooper. She thinks he is weird. Autumn starts to have trouble choosing between which friend she will spend time with.

On top of this, Autumn has become the writer of Dear Student, the famous advice column in the student paper, following the advice her dad gave on her first day to “do one thing”. Her job is to respond to questions sent anonymously by students, and her own identity is also to be kept secret. But one piece of advice she gives ends up forcing her to choose between her two friends. Will she be able to make it through with both her friends?

Marshmallow is reading Dear Student by Elly Swartz.
Marshmallow is reading Dear Student by Elly Swartz.

Marshmallow’s Review: Dear Student is a great book and a quick read. Written in fifty-four short chapters, it tells us a compelling story about friendship, family, and finding one’s voice.

The character Autumn is a nice person (her mom calls her “a gentle spirit”) and a great sister. She is relatable and she has a realistic personality. The other characters are also very realistic.

I think the author Ella Swartz did a great job of showing Autumn’s dilemma in the book and also her confusion and hurt about her father’s departure. The whole story is told through Autumn’s perspective (except for the student letters she reads and responds to, the postcards from her dad, and the messages from her friend Prisha), and in the present tense, and both these help make Autumn and her feelings come across as very real and almost urgent.

Ella Swartz’s Dear Student does not have a big mystery like Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me or any of the FunJungle books, but when I was reading it, I still wanted to read on to find out how things would turn out. The plot is not completely predictable and keeps you wanting to read further. The central dilemma of the book involves animal rights, just like in Hoot, but in Dear Student, we get a human dimension, too, complicating the issue further.

I thought that the questions addressed to the Dear Student column were sometimes related to how Autumn was feeling, which worked really well. And the column responses give the reader good advice on all types of topics. It was also neat to see a reference to a book Caramel read and reviewed before: Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat.

All in all I really enjoyed reading Dear Student. I look forward to trying the whoopie pie recipe at the end of the book…

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.

Marshmallow rates Dear Student by Ella Swartz

Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks

A few months ago Marshmallow reviewed Save Me A Seat, a 2016 novel by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. Today she wanted to talk about Soof, a 2018 book by Sarah Weeks that she has read recently. As this was an exceptionally busy week for Marshmallow, Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.

Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks.
Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell me a bit about this book.

Marshmallow: Soof is about a girl named Aurora. Aurora has grown up hearing about this girl named Heidi, who brought Aurora’s family a lot of good luck. Heidi was apparently the main character of another book Sarah Weeks wrote, and in Soof, Heidi is now a grownup and is pregnant. She’s going to come to visit Aurora’s parents, and so Aurora is feeling a bit weird about it all. She is excited to meet this Heidi. but she is also a bit jealous of how much her mom likes her. I think this is totally understandable, because her mom and her dad keep telling her about Heidi and how she seemed to bring good luck to the people around her. And Aurora, she doesn’t feel lucky at all. Especially when her house burns down and she loses her dog.

S: Hmm, that is quite a setup for a story. I did not know this book was a sequel. Did you read that other book?

M: No. But it does not seem necessary to have read that first book. (I think its name is So B. It.) I thought the story stood on its own.

S: Hmm, sometimes authors like a character in a story and then bring them back to life in different ways in other books. Maybe that was what happened here too. A girl who brings good luck would be a good plot device I’d say.

M: Well, I don’t want to say she brings good luck, and I don’t think it is magic or anything. It’s just that she is extremely lucky. But anyways, the story is mainly about Aurora and her life.

S: And Aurora is not very lucky and she is curious to meet Heidi but also slightly jealous. Okay, I think I get it. So now you have to tell me, what is the meaning of the word in the title?

M: Soof apparently means love. One of the main plot lines is for Aurora to learn what soof really means.

Marshmallow is reading Soof by Sarah Weeks.
Marshmallow is reading Soof by Sarah Weeks.

S: Looking it up online there seems to be some explanation of that in the first book too, so maybe it was good you had not read that one.

M: Yes, I actually found it interesting to meet Heidi from Aurora’s perspective. I’m intrigued by the other story too. Apparently they made a movie about it. Shall we put in the trailer here?

S: Sure.

Trailer for the 2017 movie So B. It, from YouTube.

M: I think we should tell our readers that there is a movie named Soof too but it is not the same Soof.

S: Yes, I think that is a good idea. Okay, let us get back to the book. Did you like the book?

M: Yes. I liked the characters, I thought they were very realistic. I too would be kind of jealous if my mom kept talking about this other person Heidi who was so awesome.

S: Okay, I will keep that in mind. So was the book also funny?

M: Not really. I think it was more emotional than funny. But I did like it.

S: You have read and reviewed Save Me A Seat, which the author of Soof cowrote with someone else. Do you see any similarities between the two books?

M: I think they are quite different. I think the author was able to create a totally different story with totally different characters.

S: That is a good thing! They are both aimed towards middle grade readers. but other than that, the author is versatile enough to create totally independent stories. That is neat.

M: Yes. I think she actually has several other books besides these two. Her website is an interesting place to visit.

S: What would you like to ask her if you could?

M: I’d ask her where she got the ideas for all of Aurora’s quirks. She likes tapping her nose and things like that. I think it is interesting.

S: That’s a good question Marshmallow. And it is clear you enjoyed reading this book. I’m assuming you’d recommend it to other readers?

M: Certainly. I rate it 95%, only because Aurora feels so different from me, so I have some difficulty completely understanding her.

S: Well that’s fair. After all you are a little bunny and she is …

M: Yes. That must be it.

S: Okay, so let us wrap up this review then. What would you like to tell our readers?

M: Stay tuned for more amazing reviews from the book bunnies!

Marshmallow loved reading Soof by Sarah Weeks and rated it 95%.
Marshmallow loved reading Soof by Sarah Weeks and rated it 95%.

Marshmallow reviews Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Today Marshmallow reviews Hurricane Child, a novel by Kacen Callender published in 2018.

Marshmallow reviews Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender.
Marshmallow reviews Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, then this might be the book for you.

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Caroline Murphy was born during a hurricane in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This means that she is a hurricane child. But hurricane children are supposed to be unlucky and Caroline has many reasons to feel unlucky. Her mother has disappeared, the children in her school all dislike her, and a woman in black whom no one else is able to see has been following her, ever since she almost drowned on her father’s boat. This woman is everywhere, watching her in school and at home.

Caroline’s life takes an unexpected turn when a new student starts attending her Catholic school. The new student, Kalinda, immediately becomes someone who everyone wants to be friends with. Another popular girl in the school, named Anise who bullies Caroline, asks Kalinda to sit with her group at lunch. Eventually, it seems that Kalinda is now Anise’s friend. However, when Caroline asks Kalinda to sit with her at lunch, Kalinda agrees and they become good friends. In fact, Caroline starts to develop deeper feelings for Kalinda. Unfortunately, Kalinda believes that two women cannot be in love and Caroline hides her feelings. 

Eventually Caroline figures out that Kalinda can see the woman in black, too. Caroline believes that the woman in black is related to her mother’s disappearance. When Caroline confides her suspicions with her friend, Kalinda explains that the woman is black is likely a spirit from the spirit world. Caroline begins to worry that the woman in black has stolen her mother and taken her to the spirit world forever. 

Marshmallow is reading Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender.
Marshmallow is reading Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender.

Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Hurricane Child is a beautiful book that was written very well. The author’s writing style is detailed and poetic. The author presented Caroline’s feelings, her hate, her love, and her sadness, very well. The characters are well written, are realistic, and are relatable. 

On the other hand, the plot had so many elements that I found it slightly hard to keep up. I had trouble occasionally following all the plotlines and I did not understand everything during my first reading. However, all loose threads of the plot were eventually tied up with satisfying endings. 

Trying to think about genre while writing my review, I came upon the description of magical realism from Wikipedia:

As a literary fiction style, magic realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements, often dealing with the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality. Magical realism, perhaps the most common term, often refers to literature in particular, with magical or supernatural phenomena presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting, commonly found in novels and dramatic performances. Despite including certain magic elements, it is generally considered to be a different genre from fantasy because magical realism uses a substantial amount of realistic detail and employs magical elements to make a point about reality, while fantasy stories are often separated from reality. Magical realism is often seen as an amalgamation of real and magical elements that produces a more inclusive writing form than either literary realism or fantasy.

Reading this, I think Hurricane Child is definitely magic realism, as the woman in black somehow blends into the realist plotlines of the story. (Ikenga, the book I reviewed last week, is probably also in this genre.) Maybe this aspect of the book was a reason why I had some difficulty first understanding what was real and what was actually going on.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 90%

Marshmallow rates Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender 90%.