Ruhama's Reviews > Return to Sender

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
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's review
Sep 07, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: juvenile
Read in July, 2010

Told from two different perspectives, this is a story of immigrants from Mexico, half of which are illegal, and a Yankee farm family. Tyler lives on a dairy farm in Vermont, and they need help. His grandfather recently died, his father had a farming accident and his older brother is leaving for college. This leads to hiring Mari and her family, and thus begins a tale of friendship, freedom and understanding. Tyler and Mari are in school together, and discover they both enjoy stargazing, which often saves their friendship throughout the tumultuous events in the narrative. As the year progresses, Tyler learns more about Mexican culture, just as Mari learns more about life in Vermont. They both learn more about deportation, ICE and coyotes. A subplot throughout is the disappearance of Mari's mother, which gives Tyler a chance to be a hero.

Overall, this book was disappointing. I enjoyed Tyler's growth through the year, especially his struggle with being friends with an illegal alien. I also appreciated the overall struggle of following the law, but also recognizing many of the people affected by the law aren't criminal or in the United States with evil intent. The topic is unique and can spur discussion, especially as both sides of the story unfold. The format, however, is one of the weaknesses. Switching from third to first person was awkward, especially as how the story was told didn't change. Having Mari as an omniscient narrator was jarring, and some of her story feels forced as Alvarez squeezes information into letters just to keep the story moving. The use of Spanish (and the italics to indicate it) was also inconsistent and some of the translating felt weird. And the subplot of actually finding Mari's mother felt like it was resolved with too many gimmicks and was hurried.
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