Lisa Nocita's Reviews > Return to Sender

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

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bookshelves: star-reader-2011-2012
Read in July, 2011

Tyler and his family live on a dairy farm in Vermont as has his family for generations. When his grandfather's unexpected death and a farming accident severely injures his father, trouble besets the farm. The family may have to give up the farm. Tyler, 12, loves the farm. His older brother and sister are not so enamored and have no plans to become farmers themselves. Tyler's father makes a difficult decision to try to save the farm and hires outside help in the form of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Mari, also 12, comes to live at the farm with her sisters, her father, and two uncles with her own set of family troubles. They had been living in North Carolina, where they were awaiting the return of their mother who had gone home to Mexico to see her dying mother. Her mother had begun the dangerous journey of crossing the border to come back to them, but it has been months and they have heard nothing. Her father and sisters have very little hope that their mother is still safe or alive. Mari refuses to give up. Plus, Mari and her family are constantly worried about being discovered by la migra, or immigration and being deported, or worse, being separated. Tyler and Mari begin an uncertain and tender friendship, drawn together by their mutual loneliness and longing for someone in whom to confide their fears. Tyler is conflicted, disliking breaking the law, yet moved by compassion and friendship. Of course the story takes you through the ups and downs of the two families over the course of almost one year. Although the story does not end with the happy ending that you enthusiastically hope for, it does end with optimism.

I have long been a fan of Alvarez's writing and in Return to Sender she deftly weaves in themes of family, immigration, politics, love, farming, and the power of friendship that brings understanding and compassion. Although I found the narrative unwieldy in parts, Alvarez does include author's notes at the end of the book which explain some of her writing choices which I thought was reflective and helpful. Although I fear that this will not find a wide audience among my students because it is more heady, those who do read it will be rewarded with a thought provoking story. This would be a good tie in with any studies if immigration, past or present.

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