Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Return To Sender - Julia Alvarez

Summary:  After Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm.  Tyler isn't sure what to make of these workers.  Are they undocumented?  And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life?  Mari's family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico.  Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

In a novel full of hope but offering no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they have finished it.  (Summary from book jacket and image from http://blogs.kcls.org/ )

My Review:  A couple things to note first off, the book is written in a mix of letters that Mari writes and 3rd person narration watching the character Tyler.  By doing this the reader is able to see things from multiple points of view and adds variety to the story telling.  At times it felt a bit stilted and if you didn't pay attention to whom the letter was written, it could be a tad confusing.

I'm conflicted writing this review.  Parts I really liked and others...not so much.  This is a hot topic right now, i.e. Immigration/illegal immigration.  For this reason I'm leery of even writing a review at all.  For information purposes it leans very Left.  Many times I cringed as it painted a very one-sided view of this issue.  This book only presents a liberal view of the issues.  I would have appreciated it being more well-rounded since it was proposed as a book to be read by my entire school this coming school year

Political leanings aside the story touches the heart.  I found myself drawn to Mari and her plight--it's something I see everyday with my students.  She's such a hardworking, good older sister and daughter with so much against her and forced to grow up far too quickly.  Her mother's story breaks my heart as well.  Any kind of abuse is deplorable, but to be preyed upon like she was simply because the law is a double-edged sword is just heartbreaking.

One aspect I appreciated was that even characters that differed from the author's point of view concerning politics weren't painted one dimensional.  While I can't say she depicted them accurately, she did make sure they were portrayed as humans with hearts and a conscience. 

I'm afraid I wouldn't feel comfortable promoting this book as a stand alone, but I would combine it with another that gives the opposite perspective and then hope to have a lively discussion in my classroom.  I would hope it could be an agent for change and a lesson in how to follow correct course for changing the world in a peaceful and respectful way.

Side note:  I realize the author is Latino and sees the world from that perspective.  It simply is very difficult for me to read about the laws in our land being demonized when the root of the problem stems from their own country and not the USA.  The poverty and lack in availability to proper paperwork doesn't come from the USA.  That issue is never addressed in the book.  The only issues addressed were the tribulation of the people who came here, the preying upon their own people because of dire circumstances, and the realities of breaking the law.  I do not condone the awful living situations and sad stories the characters in this book represent.  I just feel it is not representing the issue clearly and in full.  Please know I also understand the laws as they stand are not working.  I do not proclaim to have the answers, nor do I believe so many good, hard-working people should be thrown out of the country, especially considering how this breaks up families.  We do have laws for a reason and I do believe we should uphold the law or amend it going through the proper process.  It's a very sticky situation, one I'm glad I'm not in charge of fixing.

Rating: 3 stars.  In order for me to give it a higher rating it would have to be more balanced in its views.

Sum it up:  Understanding a child's perspective of illegal immigration to the USA and all the ramifications.


Unknown said...

Can anyone recommmend a book that presents a more balanced perspective? It is not easy to find quality literature that provides balance on the topic of immigration.

MindySue said...

For some reason the only children's book I can think of that does a good job (on a children's level) is Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

You'd think that I would be able to come up with more, seeing that I wrote my college thesis on the topic, but I am coming up completely empty. Balance on the topic of immigration usually comes from reading books that promote one side or the other and sifting through the bias for the fact. From there it is easier to wrap your head around and form your own opinion.

I'll keep thinking, though, and if any of the other reviewers have any ideas, please chime in.

Kari said...

I'm still looking myself. If I come across one, I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

My aren't you a bit dense, "poverty comes from their country and not ours"? I suggest you learn a bit about colonialism and globalization.

MindySue said...

Now now Anonymous, play nice. Obviously this is a hot button issue for you, as it is for many people, but if you have a problem with one of our reviews, please restrict yourself to constructive criticism instead of name calling.

If you'll read the sidenote carefully, Kari does not claim to have all the answers to the complex issue of illegal immigration. I believe (in that statement that you paraphrased, but put in quotations) that Kari was referring to the fact that these people are fleeing the poverty and instability found in their own countries for the relatively comfort of the United States -- and that US policy should focus on helping to improve the standard of living in THOSE countries instead of occupying ourselves with wall building and defensive strategy. Current United States attempts to regulate illegal immigration are merely a bandaid solution to a more complex problem that is caused by the stability and standard of living available in other countries.

Yes, US policy has played, and in some cases is playing, a major role in the political, social and economic instability found in Latin America. Until the United States makes policies that help foster stability in those countries, AND people in those countries can expect a good quality of life, illegal immigration will continue to be an issue.

Kari said...

Thanks Mindy. You said it perfectly. I'd add my two cents, but it would be redundant.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. At times the book was a bit confusing.

Anonymous said...

I feel that Esperanza rising did a better job at explaining immigration, also the protagonist Tyler doesn't seem to know what a Mexican is and just seems to be very ignorant of the world around him, making him a little annoying.


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