|Robb's Rambling Reviews
I hate to begin my review of Esperanza Rising, because I know not matter how much or how well I write, I will never be able to justice to this amazing novel. Set in 1930’s Mexico, and then later in southern California, Ryan’s novel is a semi-biographical story of her grandmother, and the hardships and joys she encountered as a young girl during the Great Depression. The novel’s theme of perseverance is revisited again and again as Esperanza and her family face difficult situation after difficult situation. In one scene, while Esperanza and her father are walking through their beautiful vineyard, her father discusses her impatience with the unripened grape crop. A true man of the soil, Sixto tells Esperanza “Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand.” This is a lesson Esperanza carries with her through the novel. Later in the story, Abuelita, Esperanza’s grandmother, takes her hands, looks into her face and says “Do not be afraid to start over.” It seems as though our heroine is given this sage advice over and over again throughout the novel, but with good reason: Esperanza is one of the most impatient characters I have come across. The beauty of the novel that again and again she faces obstacles which help teach this lesson, and by the end of the story, she is teaching it to others.
Ryan has also created a group of characters so realistic and lifelike, the story almost carries itself. Esperanza, our heroine, metamorphosizes before our eyes. An impatient, somewhat spoiled rich little girl, she faces life’s challenges head on, becoming a hardworking, caring young adult. Esperanza’s mother, Ramona, the dutiful wife of Sixto Ortega, finds her own strength as she becomes the head of the household, making decisions and working hard for her family. Abuelita, Esperanza’s grandmother, not only provides the family with wise advice, but becomes a sort of guiding light to Esperanza as she struggles to make decision after decision. Hortensia and Alfonso, once workers on the Sixto’s estate, become more like family as the story progresses, a tribute to Esperanza and her mother. The list of characters goes on, but just as she did with the others, Ryan has created remarkably memorable characters, bringing them to life as only a truly remarkable storyteller can.
Although not told in verse form, Ryan’s writing truly has a melodic tone. Whether discussing the changing of the seasons, a love for the earth, or simply discussing the emotions and feelings of the story’s characters, Ryan’s writing is truly poetic. At one point, when Mama is in the hospital Ryan writes of Esperanza, “She missed her way of walking into a room, graceful and regal. She missed watching her hands crocheting, her fingers moving nimbly. And most of all, she longed for the sound of Mama's strong and assured laughter.” Trying to instill a love of her home and the land which supplied her family with all their needs, her father tells her ““Our Land is alive, Esperanza. This whole valley breathes and lives. Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating.” These beautifully poetic words are ones which never leave her.
As Abuelita sits and crochets, she compares the zig-zag stitches she creates to life’s obstacles. "Right now you are in the bottom of the valley and your problems loom big around you," Abuelita explains when she and Esperanza say their goodbyes. "But soon, you will be at the top of a mountain again.” The blanket she is creating reminds me of the countless afghans and blankets my aunt knitted and crocheted. There wasn’t a wedding or baby shower in my family that didn’t have a brightly wrapped package from my aunt. I was given my afghan in 1976. Its bright colors in the same zig zag pattern have traveled with me throughout my life, and I still smile each time I use it. Now Abuelita’s advice will go along with it as well. The novel’s theme of perseverance strikes home with me as well. Just as Esperanza and her family persevere through hardship after hardship, I am reminded of my ancestors who came to this country and did the same. Regardless of today’s political views, America has always been a country where people from around the world come, work hard, and make a better life for themselves and their families, and I’m proud that my family in so many ways, resembles Esperanza’s. It is no coincidence that Esperanza translates into English as Hope.
Esperanza Rising tells of hardships and joys of a family like so many others. What sets it apart is the family’s refusal to give up, or give in. Pam Munoz Ryan has created a work where readers can find a story that talks directly to them, discussing things the need to know, and reinforcing things the already do. Her poetic language creates moods lighter than air, and other times drags readers to the depths of misery. Her themes of perseverance, loyalty, and duty permeate the novel, teaching readers important lessons without being teachy or preachy, and the characters are simply amazing: sympathetic, compassionate, and so true to life.
Citation: Ryan, P. M. (2002). Esperanza rising. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.