Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez
NY: Knopf; 2009
available on Amazon or at your local public library
Tyler is a 6th-grade boy on a Vermont farm who befriends Mari, the daughter of undocumented Mexican workers. Alvarez tells this tale from both sides, using the voices of Tyler and Mari. Tyler’s father was hurt in a farm accident, and the family must adjust to having more help on the farm. Mari was born in Mexico and now lives in a trailer as her dad and uncle work on Tyler’s family farm. Mari's mother left a year ago to visit her parents in Mexico, and has not yet returned to their family. Tyler is worried that his family won't be able to keep their farm since his father cannot run it on his own anymore, and Mari is very anxious that her mother will not return. Mari and Tyler's friendship was believable and moving, as they warily became friends, got to know each other, and finally reached out to really help one another.
Tweens will like hearing this story from the point of view of two different characters who are struggling with large and small issues in their lives. They will like exploring the moral dilemmas facing both families, and the emotional difficulties of being separated from your mother. Mari's mother does return, but she had been detained and abused by the Coyotes who were helping her across the border. Alvarez alludes to the horrors that Mari's mother faced, but does not explore the details - it was a perfect balance for young tween readers.
I particularly liked how Mari's feelings came through in the letters she writes to her mother, her grandparents, and even the president. She finds it very helpful to write out her feelings, and I loved that suggestion for tweens and young teens.. I did find it difficult to switch between the perspectives of Mari and Tyler - each time I started a chapter in Tyler's voice, it took me a few pages to switch gears. It would be interesting to ask young readers if they liked this way of reading a story, if it helped them see two sides to this story.
Julia Alvarez was awarded the 2010 Pura Belpre Author Award for Return to Sender. The award committee wrote of Return to Sender:
After Tyler’s father is unable to maintain the family farm, he hires undocumented workers, resulting in an interdependent relationship that mirrors current social and political conditions in the United States. Alvarez humanizes a situation by giving a voice to millions of immigrants experiencing similar hardships. This outstanding novel about the solidarity between two children of different cultures will resonate in the hearts of readers of any age.I would definitely recommend this story to readers who enjoy realistic fiction, who want to reach out beyond their own experiences. For another review, please see TheHappyNappyBookseller.
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