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Return to Sender Hardcover – January 13, 2009


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 890L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2010
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (January 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375858385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375858383
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 4–7—Sixth-grader Tyler Paquette lives in a dairy-farming community in Vermont. His father was injured in a tractor accident and must now turn to undocumented Mexican laborers to run the farm. Thus, a trailer on the property soon becomes home to the Cruz family—sixth-grader Mari, her two younger sisters, father, and two uncles, all needing work to survive and living with fear of la migra. They have had no word on Mari's mother, missing now for several months. Tyler and Mari share an interest in stargazing, and their extended families grow close over the course of one year with holiday celebrations and shared gatherings. Third-person chapters about Tyler alternate with Mari's lengthy, unmailed letters to her mother and diary entries. Touches of folksy humor surface in the mismatched romance of Tyler's widowed Grandma and cranky Mr. Rossetti. When "coyotes" contact Mr. Cruz and set terms for his wife's freedom, Tyler secretly loans the man his savings, then renegotiates a promised birthday trip in order to accompany Mari to North Carolina to help rescue her abused mother. When immigration agents finally raid the farm and imprison both Cruz parents, it signals an end to the "el norte" partnership, but not the human connections. This timely novel, torn right from the newspaper headlines, conveys a positive message of cooperation and understanding.—Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

With quiet drama, Alvarez tells a contemporary immigration story through the alternating viewpoints of two young people in Vermont. After 11-year-old Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, the family is in danger of losing their dairy farm. Desperate for help, Tyler’s family employs Mari’s family, who are illegal migrant Mexican workers. Mari writes heartrending letters and diary entries, especially about Mamá, who has disappeared during a trip to Mexico to visit Mari's dying abuelita. Is Mamá in the hands of the border-crossing “coyotes”? Have they hurt her? Will Homeland Security (la migra) raid the farm? The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. But the young people’s voices make for a fast read; the characters, including the adults, are drawn with real complexity; and the questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate. Grades 6-9. --Hazel Rochman

More About the Author

Julia Alvarez has bridged the Americas many times. Born in New York and raised in the Dominican Republic, she is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist, author of world-renowned books in each of the genres, including How the García Girls Lost their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and Something to Declare. She lives on a farmstead outside Middlebury, Vermont, with her husband Bill Eichner. Visit Julia's Web site here to find out more about her writing.

Julia and Bill own an organic coffee farm called Alta Gracia in her native country of the Dominican Republic. Their specialty coffee is grown high in the mountains on what was once depleted pastureland. Not only do they grow coffee at Alta Gracia, but they also work to bring social, environmental, spiritual, and political change for the families who work on their farm. They use the traditional methods of shad-grown coffee farming in order to protect the environment, they pay their farmers a fair and living wage, and they have a school on their farm where children and adults learn to read and write. For more information about Alta Gracia, visit their website.

Belkis Ramírez, who created the woodcuts for A Cafecito Story, is one of the most celebrated artists in the Dominican Republic.

Customer Reviews

I very much enjoyed this book and find it not only accurate but interesting.
Kristina Marshall
I love the way the book was written but I must say you need to be making sure you are paying attention, because you can get lost on who's talking.
lynn08
Julia Alvarez's new book, RETURN TO SENDER, explores the issue of illegal immigration.
TeensReadToo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Richie Partington VINE VOICE on February 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
To the parents of eleven-year-old Tyler Paquette, the family of Mexican workers who have come to live in the trailer on their Vermont dairy farm are angels.

Tyler had actually seen the tractor roll over, trapping his father underneath. He's had horrible nightmares about it ever since. If Tyler had not been there to call 9-1-1, his father wouldn't be alive today. Nevertheless, his father may never recover the full use of his arm and leg and -- given that Tyler's big brother is heading off to college at the end of the summer and his teenage sister is about as likely to help with the cows as my teenage daughter is to help me tend to my dairy goats (NOT!) -- it had been looking like Tyler might never have the opportunity to grow up to become a fifth-generation Vermont family farmer.

"I remember the fear of serpents, the sharp rocks, the lights of la migra. And always, the terrible thirst...I am not sure even this paper can hold such terrifying memories."

Mari is Tyler's age. She is an illegal alien. She has arrived on a bus from North Carolina with her illegal alien father, her two illegal alien uncles, and her two little sisters who were born in North Carolina. Last winter Mari's mom suddenly returned to their homeland in southern Mexico because her mother -- Mari's Abulita -- was dying. Now the family has lost contact with Mama who is hopefully still alive and presumably still trying to sneak across the border and return to North Carolina.

Fearing potential repercussions, Mari's father has persuaded her not to try to actually mail any of the long letters that she has been writing to Mama. But how, then, might the family ever become reunited?

"That is why I am writing, Mama.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Walt Eddy on March 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Julia Alvarez knows how to characterize the blur in the line between right and wrong. She knows how to make it clear that reality and morality are continuums and not dichotomies of this or that, up or down, or yes or no. There are no absolutes. (Now, there's an oxymoron.) We have a long way to go.

Alvarez begins with a young man, her protagonist, Tyler, the younger eleven-year-old son in a family who has survived and thrived by running a dairy farm in Vermont. The family's farming heritage is at risk. Tyler's older brother is away at college, mostly unavailable to help out on the farm without jeopardizing his education and eventual career, and Tyler's father has been injured and disabled, perhaps permanently, in a farming accident. Tyler's father can't do the work he normally did. It is unclear when and if he ever will be able to do the work again. Extended family also can't adequately help out. So paying the bills and keeping the farm is at risk. The family needs help or to change their dynamics: selling the farm, moving from their land, doing something entirely different than farming.

Tyler's parents eventually hire undocumented immigrants --- a couple of men --- to assist with the dairy work. One of the immigrant men is married and has three daughters. The oldest, Mari, slowly becomes Tyler's friend and ally, an unfolding as miraculous as springtime. Mari's mother has disappeared in the murky criminal element that arose to fulfill the void created by ambiguities in United States immigrant policies, underfunded policies that for years tacitly approved of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States to work in jobs that citizens in better times didn't want to do.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Selby on August 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I want to disclose that I know the author, but only slightly, and I lived for many years in both Middlebury and Bridport, Vermont. (Bridport is often called Bridgeport by out-of-staters passing through.) So when I see an acknowledgment to Jerry and Cheryl Connor, who own a large and beautiful farm in Bridport, I know I am in once familiar territory. But those were years ago. Today I live in Miami Beach where Spanish dominates English. So let me begin by saying one of the biggest pluses is how skillfully Dr. Alvarez has incorporated Spanish into the text. It reads so smoothly and should be very inviting to those who do not speak Spanish. And in my opinion, Spanish is a beautiful language to hear. (I also teach writing at a local college. Many of my students speak Spanish as their first language, so unlike what my classrooms were like in Vermont.)
The characters are delightful. When I grew up in Vermont, it was French-Canadians who populated the migrant farm workers. Maybe today there are more Mexicans. This I would not know. But the story is believable and takes the reader through the complete annual cycle of a farm.
However, I could not give this the fifth star for one reason. I have taught all my adult life. Maria's letters are not the letters of a girl her age. I think children and young adults reading this would not object. But as an adult reader--and a voracious one--I don't like having to suspend my belief system for an entire novel. And that is what I had to do because those letters back home to the absent mother in Mari's life are too perfect, letters that a more mature Mari would have composed. Having said that, I realize that the standards for young adult fiction are different than those for adult fiction.
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