Review of ESPERANZA RISING by PAM MUNOZ RYAN
Someone gave me this middle grade book when I was 13, and I thought I was too old for it. I kept it, though, and finally read it for the first time in late college only to find myself shocked at how much it affected me. How many times do I need to re-learn that target age isn’t that much of a factor in terms of a book’s power? When I started my blog, this one made the cut for ones I needed to re-read for a fresh review. I don’t generally re-read books and one of my great fears is that I’ll discover some of my all times favorites lose their luster upon a closer look. I have already found some that don’t hold up to my memory, but I’m relieved to say that ESPERANZA RISING was just as good on the second reading!
Esperanza lives a privileged life in Mexico on her father’s ranch, until he’s murdered by bandits while out repairing a fence. It seems her world can’t be any more shattered at the news of her beloved father’s death. Then her cruel, powerful uncles start pressuring her influential mother to marry one of them, providing all her popularity to their name as well as the ranch, too. One of the servant families (and close family friends) convinces Esperanza’s mother to flee to the U.S. with them. While the idea of avoiding her terrible uncle seems smart enough at first, Esperanza doesn’t fully realize everything she’s giving up: a private education, beautiful dresses, expensive toys, a huge ranch.
This new start requires that Esperanza work, too. While hardly a spoiled brat, she doesn’t transition to her new role without complaint. At first, it feels she can’t do anything right even when trying so hard. To make matters worse, some people enjoy seeing the “fallen princess” failing at simple tasks. As if that weren’t enough, Esperanza’s mother then takes ill as well, leaving Esperanza in circumstances that will truly test her character.
Munoz Ryan is a talented writer. Her invisible writing says a lot with a little. I get a strong sense of several different characters in a very slim novel through perfect dialogue and actions that reveal plenty.