Esperanza Rising

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Esperanza Rising
Esperanza Rising cover.jpg
Original Scholastic book cover
AuthorPam Muñoz Ryan
IllustratorJoe Cepeda
Cover artistPam Muñoz Ryan
CountryUnited States
Published2000 Scholastic
Media typePrint (paperback + hardcover)
Pages259 plus author's notes
LC ClassPZ7.R9553 Es 2000

Esperanza Rising is a young adult historical fiction novel written by Mexican-American author Pam Muñoz Ryan and released by Scholastic Publishing on 27 March 2000.[1] The novel focuses on Esperanza, the only daughter of wealthy Mexican parents, and follows the events that occur after her father's murder. Esperanza, her mother, and their former household servants flee to California with no money during the Great Depression, where they find agricultural work that pays very little. The book received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Muñoz Ryan's writing and concluded that it was suitable for classroom discussion.

Plot synopsis[edit]

Esperanza Ortega, the daughter of wealthy landowners, lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in 1930 on her family's ranch with her mother, father, and grandmother.

The day before Esperanza's 13th birthday, her father is murdered while working on the ranch. Her uncle Luis reveals that he now owns their land. He offers to continue to care for them and their ranch if Esperanza's mother, Ramona, will marry him. When she refuses, he burns down the ranch. Esperanza's grandmother, Abuelita, is injured during the fire and is sent to a convent where she can recover. Esperanza and the rest of her family decide to travel to the United States.

When Esperanza's family arrives in the United States, which is currently in the grip of the Great Depression, they settle in a farm camp in Arvin, California. Esperanza begins to adjust to her new life but still fantasizes about Abuelita rescuing her from poverty.

Ramona contracts Valley fever, and the doctors are unsure if she will survive. Esperanza, desperate for money to support herself and pay her mother's medical bills, takes work on the farm camp despite being underage. She stockpiles money orders in the hopes of one day sending them to Abuelita and allowing her to travel to the United States.

Tensions rise in the camp as migrants from Oklahoma flee the Dust Bowl and look for work in California. Some workers go on strike to try to improve working conditions. Following a massive demonstration by the strikers, the farm owners call immigration officials to round up and deport the demonstrators. However, many of the people deported were natural-born American citizens who had never been to Mexico. Esperanza has a breakdown and then an argument with her friend, Miguel, because of this event. The next day, they find that Miguel has left to seek work in Northern California.

When Ramona recovers from her illness, Esperanza proudly goes to show her mother the money orders she saved, only to discover that they are missing; Miguel took them when he left. However, Miguel used them to secretly travel to Mexico and retrieve Abuelita.

The book ends on the day of Esperanza's 14th birthday and Esperanza has finally learned to be grateful for what she has: her family reunited, friends who love her, and most of all: hope.

Main characters[edit]

  • Esperanza Ortega: The protagonist, the 13 year old daughter of wealthy Mexican landowners, who spends most of the novel living in poverty in California
  • Ramona Ortega: Esperanza's mother
  • Sixto Ortega: Esperanza's father
  • Abuelita: Esperanza's grandmother
  • Tio Luis: Esperanza's uncle who tries to marry Ramona after Sixto's death
  • Hortensia: The Ortega family's maid
  • Alfonso: Hortensia's husband
  • Miguel: Hortensia's son and Esperanza's friend and agemate
  • Pepe and Lupe: Alfonso's family members who Esperanza meets after moving to California

Background information[edit]

American laborers from Oklahoma were often hostile toward the Mexican workers because they felt they were taking away their jobs. Mexican migrant laborers would work for much lower pay, so there was much tension between the migrant workers on the fields. Some felt that their conditions were unlivable, so they began to protest for better working conditions. Still, others refused to join the protest in fear that they would be fired. In the 1920s and 1930s (about the time the story takes place) California remained about 86% white. Most of these people were those who owned the land, while the 36,800 workers, many of whom were Mexicans, did not.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Along with its Best Books citation, Publishers Weekly gave Esperanza Rising a starred review, citing its "lyrical, fairy-tale-like style". It praised the way "Ryan poetically conveys Esperanza's ties to the land by crafting her story to the rhythms of the seasons" and the fact that "Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events... with one family's will to survive".[2] Kirkus Reviews disliked the "epic tone, characters that develop little and predictably, and... romantic patina". However it also found that the "style is engaging, her characters appealing", ultimately saying that the story "bears telling to a wider audience".[3]

Children's Literature praised Esperanza Rising and suggested that it "would be a great choice for a multicultural collection".[4] Esperanza Rising coincides with other works of its kind to portraying themes of the United States' simultaneous discrimination against and economic reliance on immigrants.[5] According to literary scholar Dr. Rachelle Kuehl, historical fiction like Esparanza Rising serves to connect readers with the past and present, facilitating a co-construction of current and historical Mexican-American experiences.[6] She notes that the novel allows students to confront the realities of discrimination due to skin tone and immigration status,[7] and she praises the book for its cultural authenticity.[8]

The book has been incorporated into school curriculum in literature, social studies, and Spanish.[9] When the book was used with English as a Second Language students in an Earphone English group at Berkeley High School, they found that Esperanza Rising doesn't just appeal to students who, like Esperanza, have emigrated from Mexico, but "also to those who have moved here after losing their fathers to violence in the former Yugoslavia".[10]



  1. ^ "Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan Book Reviews".
  2. ^ "Children's Review: Esperanza Rising". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  3. ^ "Kirkus Reviews: Esperanza Rising". Kirkus reviews. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  4. ^ "Barnes and Noble Review: Esperanza Rising". More About This Book: Editorial Reviews. Barnes and Noble. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  5. ^ Kuehl, Rachelle (29 July 2021). "Through Lines: Exploring Past/Present Connections in Middle Grade Novels". The Reading Teacher. 75 (4): 441–451. doi:10.1002/trtr.2041. ISSN 0034-0561.
  6. ^ Kuehl, Rachelle (2021-07-29). "Through Lines: Exploring Past/Present Connections in Middle Grade Novels". The Reading Teacher. 75 (4): 443. doi:10.1002/trtr.2041. ISSN 0034-0561.
  7. ^ Kuehl, Rachelle. "Through Lines: Exploring Past/Present Connections in Middle Grade Novels". The Reading Teacher. 75 (4): 445. doi:10.1002/trtr.2041. ISSN 0034-0561 – via International Literacy Association.
  8. ^ Kuehl, Rachel (2021). "Through Lines: Exploring Past/Present Connections in Middle Grade Novels". The Reading Teacher. 75: 443–444 – via
  9. ^ Boccuzzi-Reichert, Angela (May 2005). "A Book Club for Teachers". School Library Journal. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  10. ^ Goldsmith, Francisca (May 2002). "Earphone English". School Library Journal.
  11. ^ "Pam Munoz Ryan's website - Awards".