Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]
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Goodreads Summary:

Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico--she'd always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances--Mama's life, and her own, depend on it.

I received this book as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

As I've mentioned before, during my younger days I read a lot of historical fiction for school, ranging from the excellent to the forgettable. Unfortunately, this led me to grow somewhat tired of the genre, which means I'm always going to be a bit more critical of historical fiction novels. My new quest is to find a book in this genre that truly wows me. Unfortunately, Esperanza Rising is not that book, despite glowing reviews from countless people.


I found the perspective of this novel to be unique and quite refreshing. Never before had I read a book that dealt with Mexican immigrants serving as farm laborers during the Great Depression, although I certainly knew that it had happened. So I did find it interesting to see what it was like for those workers. Not only that, but Pam Muñoz Ryan really went a different direction by choosing to represent the strikers on the farms as somewhat of the antagonists. Oftentimes novels of this kind portray strikers as the heroes, fighting for freedom and justice and equality, but Ryan made the negative effects of the strikes quite clear. I'm not advocating either position, but it was definitely eye-opening to see it from the other side.
Furthermore, the development of Esperanza as a person and as a character was extremely noticeable, which is often not the case in coming-of-age novels. When Esperanza first heads to America, I imagined her as being perhaps nine or ten years old, only to find out that she was actually thirteen. But by the end of the book, after experiencing all sorts of hardship, she sounded to me like she could have been fifteen or sixteen, although the time-span of the book is not nearly that long. In my head, however, she matured six or seven years, an unbelievable change in characterization.

Also, the writing style for the book is very lyrical and poetic. That is even evidenced in the title and cover art. The chapter titles are all different fruits and vegetables, each of which plays a part during the next portion of the story, which I found creative and whimsical.


Going back to Esperanza's characterization, although I found her growth to be astounding, it also confirmed for me that it is difficult for writers to portray pre-teens. (Granted, Esperanza is thirteen for the main part of the novel, but that is still middle-school-aged.) Many books I've read which were written for and about pre-teens had their main characters acting quite younger than they actually were. When I was twelve years old, I really disliked reading about twelve-year-olds because I found I usually couldn't relate to them because their actions and mannerisms seemed juvenile to me. Now, this isn't always the case, and maybe it's just me, but it certainly is something I've noticed in the past. (I might even turn this topic into a post at some point...)

And unfortunately Ryan fell prey to the same problem. I could not believe my eyes when I read that Esperanza was thirteen years old. And while by the end of the book she had changed enormously, that initial shock left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the read.

Furthermore, the plot itself was relatively predictable, the supporting characters were stereotypical, and there was never enough tension to keep me glued to the pages.

Overall, I found the book to be enjoyable, but not riveting. It deals with an interesting topic but isn't very unique or exciting otherwise.

Now I’m going to do a breakdown of each element of the series, judging it on different criteria. I’ll rate each element on a scale of 1-5, 1 being bad, and 5 being amazing.

Plot: 3

Complexity: 3
Creativity: 2
Believability: 4
Surprise: 2

Characters: 3

Depth: 3
Personality: 2
Believability: 3

Writing Style: 3
Description: 4
Tension: 2

Overall Score: 3

Happy Reading!


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