Classic book review: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising”

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s 2000 book, Esperanza Rising, is a young adult novel set in the 1920s, but readers of all ages will enjoy reading this story with its themes and issues that resonate today.

Esperanza Ortega is about to celebrate her 13th birthday on her family’s luxurious ranch when her family faces a series of tragic circumstances. As the revolution rages in Mexico, her mother decides they must go to the United States and work the fields. Esperanza quickly learns she must adjust to a new life, which includes living in a cramped two-room home with five other people and working the fields with workers who want to strike for better working conditions.

Muñoz Ryan writes beautifully with great descriptions of the land, but the novel’s greatest strength is its way of introducing relevant social issues – such as racism and immigration – to young people.

For example, Esperanza and her family go out of their way to a Japanese merchant because he treats them well, even stocking up cow’s intestines for menudo.

As her friend Miguel says:

“Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor. At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders or call us ‘dirty greasers.’ My father says that Mr. Yakota is a very smart businessman. He is getting rich on other people’s bad manners.”

As Esperanza accepts her new life, she also thinks about other people – such as the way workers were treated during a raid by immigration officials.

“Some of these people did not deserve their fate today. How was it that the United States could send people to Mexico who had never even lived there?”

Esperanza Rising won the Pura Belpré Medal – which honors works for youth by Latino authors – and it deserved it. It’s a great book with a strong character that young adults will identify with.

More about Pam Muñoz Ryan:

Pam Muñoz Ryan was inspired to write Esperanza Rising for her grandmother, also name Esperanza Ortega, who came from Mexico to the United States to pick the fields. The California native also has written Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León and The Dreamer, as well as numerous picture books.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

Note: This book is part of the series of classic books by Latina authors. Next up: Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican.

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Filed under Classic Books, Fiction, Young Adult Books

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