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Under the Mesquite Hardcover – September 9, 2011
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Told in verse sprinkled with Spanish terms (a glossary is included), this story of Lupita s high-school years details her increasing responsibility within her large Mexican American family after Mami is diagnosed with cancer. Caring for seven younger siblings, keeping up with schoolwork and her drama roles, and staying connected with her classmates and friends while the worries gnaw at her take their toll, but she is strong. There are also moments of intense vulnerability. As high-school graduation nears, Lupita sees that her mother may not be there for it: Suddenly I realize / how much I can t control, how much / I am not promised. The close-knit family relationships, especially Mami and Lupita s, are vividly portrayed, as is the healing comfort Lupita finds in words, whether written in her notebooks or performed onstage. --Booklist
I could go on and on about how gorgeous Ms Garcia McCall s writing is and how she seamlessly flits between Spanish and English words and explores two completely different cultures and the issues that come with being uprooted and how perfectly she captures and portrays the emotions that come hand-in-hand with illness in a close, loving family and pain and sadness and hope and about growing up and letting go and looking to the future without forgetting the past and the journey you must go on and maternal love and.... and.... and..... You know what? Just read it and I promise you won t be disappointed. --Wear the Old Coat
A resilient Mexican-American girl copes with familial obligation and loss in this free-verse novel.
Drawing from her own teen years for inspiration, McCall highlights life in the borderlands: En los Estados Unidos / I trained my tongue / and twisted syllables / to form words / that sounded hollow, / like the rain at midnight / dripping into tin pails / through the thatched roof / of our abuelita s house. Lupita s first-person tale captures pivotal moments of her high-school years in the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, with glimpses back at her first six years in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. During her freshman year, Lupita discovers that her mother has cancer. While her mother fights the disease and her father struggles to support the family financially, Lupita sometimes becomes the de facto parental unit for her seven younger siblings. As she worries about food and money, Lupita experiences the typical troubles and triumphs of a teenage girl; her drama teacher, Mr. Cortez, helps her find an outlet for her talent and her pain. Meanwhile, family members continue to draw strength and support from each other on both sides of the border. With poignant imagery and well-placed Spanish, the author effectively captures the complex lives of teenagers in many Latino and/or immigrant families.
A promising, deeply felt debut. --Kirkus Reviews
This stunning debut novel in verse chronicles the teenage years of Lupita, a character drawn largely from the author s own childhood...The simplicity of the story line belies the deep richness of McCall s writing. Lupita, a budding actress and poet, describes the new English words she learned as a child to be like lemon drops, tart and sweet at the same time and ears of corn as sweating butter and painted with chili-powdered lime juice. Each phrase captures the essence of a moment or the depth of her pain. The power of Lupita s story lies also in the authenticity of her struggles both large and small, from dealing with her mother s illness to arguments with friends about acculturation. This book will appeal to many teens for different reasons, whether they have dealt with the loss of a loved one, aspire to write and act, are growing up Mexican American, or seeking their own identity amid a large family. Bravo to McCall for a beautiful first effort. --School Library Journal
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The topic of meshing cultures and the journey of emigration is a difficult tale to write. Inevitably, multiple languages must be woven together to write the story; descriptions of cultural rituals - such as cooking - must be described. And it takes a very special author to write these day to day things in a way that is authentic in both the language of the originating country (in this case Mexico) and the language of the new home (USA) and is authentic culturally. Ms. Guadalupe Garcia McCall does this so very well; it is obvious that she has experienced this. Many authors try to make their story appear to contain a bilingual character and to do so, the author translates the occasional word in to, say Spanish. But from my experience, many authors who have not experienced the cross cultural reality - they translate the wrong word in to Spanish, putting emphasis where there never was. Or the author may describe a cultural habit that just does not take place. Ms. McCall never makes these mistakes; she uses Spanish in her English novel in a very authentic way but she also makes it accessible for her English only speakers, for example:
"Look at my beautiful, talented muchachita," she keeps telling Papi."
"As the latest episode of her favorite telenovela unfolds, the soap opera drawing her in, the skins from the potatoes she is peeling drop into her apron like old maple leaves."
"Eyes shimmering, I am a ratoncita, a sly little mouse."
And to aid her readers, the author includes a glossary of Spanish terms and cultural references at the back of her book.
On the topic of maturing, the main character is conflicted. She is already the oldest child in a house of 8 kids and has quite a few responsibilities but she is not ready to grow up:
"But for me, señorita means melancolia; setting into sadness. It is the end of wild laughter. The end of chewing bubble gum and giggling over nothing with my friends at the movies, our feet up on the backs of theater seats .... Señorita is a niña, the girl I used to be, who has lost her voice."
Ms. McCall writes very effectively the pull of adulthood and the sadness in leaving childhood behind. As I write this I think of my own oldest daughter and how conflicted she is about growing up. McCall captures it perfectly.
Because, the main storyline is the young girl interacting with her beloved family, much of the book involves the lead character taking care of her siblings and waiting for her mother to die.
"Mami's cultivating six budding daughters and two rowdy sons; eight thriving blue roses clustered together so closely, they tremble as they cling to the withering stem of her life."
"Waiting for la Muerte to take Mami is like being bound, lying face up on the sacrificial altar of the god Huitzilopochtli, pleading with the Aztec priest, asking him to be kind while he rips my heart out."
"Sometimes she was a comfortable as a blanket, enveloping us in her warmth. She was so soft, we never wanted to let her go."
Despite the difficult topics tackled in this verse driven novel, in the end, the story leaves the reader with hope, "sometimes it's best to take things down and start all over again." I highly recommend this short novel.
So begins Guadalupe Garcia McCall's debut book, a novel in free verse that describes Lupita's coming of age. The verses include the longing for Mexico even as their family puts down roots (and plants roses bushes amid which a stubborn mesquite thrives) in Texas, Lupita's discovery of drama class and poetry, and her mother's cancer.
In one of the most dramatic parts of the story, Lupita is put in charge of her younger siblings while her father goes out of town to stay with her hospitalized mother. The children don't obey her, neighbors and relatives resent giving them food for such a prolonged period -- apparently an entire summer -- and Lupita marvels at how easily her mother took care of them.
However, in this section, as in the others, any emotional impact is supplied by the reader. McCall's understated verse is bare bones writing that calls upon her readers to enrich Lupita's small moments and larger journey.
Under the Mesquite won this year's Pura Belpré honors as work that "portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth", as stated on its American Library Association home page. While it's not the best written piece of literature, with poetry on the level of what its young readers will be able to write themselves, it is an important work in putting on the pages of a book experiences that speak directly to young Latino/Latina readers. McCall, herself a teacher, has written a book that will be shared in many classrooms and libraries.
Written in free verse Under the Mesquite is the story of Lupe and her family not only dealing with her mother's illness and death but it is also a view into the life of Mexican-Americans. Wanting their children to have a good education and a better life than possible in Mexico, the family moves to a border town in Texas although they visit their relatives often. We learn about the move, the birth of more siblings, the dad working far away, the siblings relationships, the mom's illness and the aftermath of her death. The writing is beautiful and sprinkled with spanish words and phrases.
Since I now work in a school with many native Spanish speaking students I have already introduced this book to some students. Many have never read a book written in this style and between that and the Spanish they are lining up to check it out. Recommended for 5th grade and up. Read it as an arc courtesy of Lee & Low Books via Netgalley.
What I think: This book is a beautiful book in verse that not only has a touching narrative, but has exquisite verse. The narrative deals with a topic that many readers will have some sort of connection with, cancer, as well has coming of age in a household where the disease has struck. But what makes this book different than other stories about the effects of cancer is that it also tells the story of growing up as a Mexican-American here in America.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I wanted to cry the whole time!!!
That is all I have to say, but that it was so sad!!!