Last week I finished reading Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez. A Latina author who now lives and teaches in Vermont, this YA novel was inspired by her own experiences and written from own unique perspective. After reading a recommendation for this book, I picked it up at the library and couldn’t put it down! The book is told from two persepctives – that of a 12 year old girl whose parents have come to this country illegally looking for work, and that of a boy the same age whose family has hired her family to work on a farm in VT. The two soon become friends, and it’s the boy’s feelings that begin to change.
At first Tyler has only a basic understanding of illegal immigrants, believing that they may be good people – but ultimately they are breaking the law. He soon realizes that there may be a flaw, and begins to understand the complexity of illegal immigration. Witnessing what Maria and her family have gone through is a life-changing experience for Tyler. It’s interesting that his parents welcome the workers onto the farm – they know they need help in order to keep themselves afloat. The recent loss of his grandfather, and his father’s accident on a tractor, has led the family to seek help. Without the help of Maria’s family, they would be forced to sell the farm. His grandmother his surprisingly openminded, and encourages Tyler to change his outlook.
“Actually, dear, your uncle Larry’s had Mexicans for a while over at his place,” Grandma explains. “Your dad wouldn’t hear of it, until, of course, the accident made him reconsider. But when your uncle Larry told us, you know what Gramps said? He said, ‘We Paquettes came down from Canada back in the 1800s. Nobody but nobody in America got here – excepting the Indians – without somebody giving them a chance.’ That’s what he said. ‘Course, he would have preferred that Uncle Larry wait till it was legal. But the cows can’t wait for their milking till the politicians get the laws changed. They’d still be waiting.”
In his growing relationship with Maria, he hears the story of their struggle. Her family are living in constant fear of “la migra”, immigration police who at any time could have had them all deported. Her mother disappeared while attempting to go back to Mexico on her own, and hasn’t been seen in over a year. About halfway through the year that Maria and her family stay at the farm, her uncle is arrested and is facing deportation. Maria is an incredibly strong girl, living in a strange place, away from her mother, she is expected to care for her two younger sisters.
At the end of the book there is an author’s note that mentions a raid by ICE of the same name of the book that happened in 2006. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had raided several locations across the country, rounding up hundreds of illegal immigrants to be sent back to their home countries. Because it focuses on a pair of 12 year old kids, the book also relates to today’s border crisis. I love that the book, written for a young audience, might help kids better understand that situation. Anyone – even those who are not in the book’s target audience – will enjoy this book. Alvarez puts a human face on this ongoing crisis, and is pleading for sympathy and understanding.