by Pam Muñoz Ryan (2000)
An Intermediate and Middle School selection.
What better way to learn history than through the eyes of a beloved character as she experiences it firsthand? Esperanza Ortega guides us through her beautiful coming of age story in the 1930s. With the effects of the Mexican Revolution and the Great Depression lingering in her hometown, the wellborn Esperanza soon finds herself living and struggling on a migrant work farm amidst strikes and the threat of deportations. She experiences pressures and assumes responsibilities she had never before imagined. Amidst these challenges, Esperanza find the strength to rise up and become the young woman we all admire.
Pam Muñoz Ryan’s own family history is the genesis of this novel as she recalls elements of her grandmother’s real-life story. Her deep love and connection to this time period and story are evident in her warm retelling of these historical events. Ryan’s writing is poetic with a lyrical quality that adds beauty to an already touching story. The story is steeped in the rich Mexican culture of her ancestors educating readers with information and understanding of a beautiful way of life. Ryan’s characters are realistic and relatable, so full of genuine kindness that they guide the reader through the harsh realities of the time period with a humanness that softens even the most difficult situations.
Though only thirteen years old, Esperanza is tested beyond her years and emerges a courageous and resilient young lady. One can learn a lot about oneself during difficult situations as Esperanza can attest. She will give readers inspiration to persevere. As her Abuelita encourages her, “Do not be afraid to start over.” In our modern world of failure-resistant people, the lessons of learning, struggling, starting over, and new beginnings are refreshing and imperative for us all. Learn with Esperanza, fail with Esperanza, grow with Esperanza, and love with Esperanza.
Esperanza riches-to-rags story forces her to learn the importance of family and friends as she comes to understand how much she is willing to sacrifice for those loved ones. She finds what is of ultimate value to her, and it has nothing to do with money. Esperanza rises above her physical situation to find what is truly most important in life. May we all learn and rise with her.