Saturday, October 6, 2012

Under The Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Enjoy the words in this novel-in-verse as they unfurl and scoop you through the inked pages. Lupita, the oldest of eight children, learns to deal with her mother getting cancer as a high school student. Lupita's family lived in Mexico before moving to the United States. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Lupita, poetically narrates this story enriching the text with a beautiful blend of two cultures and languages. The chapter, Uprooted, can stand alone as a free verse poem. "I doubted los girasoles [sunflowers] would understand me anymore, because now I was speaking a different language. I swallowed consonants and burdened vowels with a sound so dense, the words fell straight out of my mouth and hit the ground before they could reach the river's edge." The author's frequent use of nature-based metaphors and similes reminds me of the Romantic poets.

Part One shows the family learning about mom's secret.  The frightened Lupita barters with God that she'll become a nun if he will let her mom be free of cancer. She goes so far as to tell the nuns at church she wants to join their vocation. When the nuns show up at their house, her mom says, "No!" Part Two is a flashback to when they lived in Mexico. Sometimes I am impatient with flashbacks because it feels like the story is being interrupted and the pacing slows too much. I felt that at this point in the story. We just find out Lupita's mom has cancer and then I'm reading about Lupita being told she can't go play with her friends Mireya and Sarita but has to play with her sisters. It didn't seem to move the plot forward but the author is showing that Lupita's mom expects family to come over friends. It is one of the reasons Lupita became a caretaker of her siblings as the cancer progressed, weakening her mom and drawing her dad's focus to be solely on taking care of her mom. At one point Lupita is taking care of the seven siblings while her dad takes care of their mom at the hospital six hours away. Lupita scrounges for food and tries to keep tabs on everyone as a 17-year-old. Her success is meager.

Part Three, Four, and Five have more action and are emotionally charged as the family deals with their moms cancer. Many times I found myself making connections with the verses to my own life. For instance, my dad and his actions toward me as he deals with my mom's Alzheimers: "Many times, though, / his anger is nothing more/ than a change of weather - / a blistering breeze, / a pool that's cooled -/ and he doesn't want to talk/ to anyone about it./ So now, not knowing / which face of sadness/ he might show, I play it safe/ and leave him alone." The rich evocative passages and unique images make reading a delightful traipse.

Lupita changes internally from putting her family first to putting herself first. She realizes that she must move on with her life and dreams, while holding onto hope and memories. This is at the end and the change seemed somewhat abrupt. She comes to a realization at her Grandma's house, but I needed one more chapter to show her thinking about how to communicate with her dad who she knows will resist her wanting to go to college. Up to this point the parents have supported college, but now dad doesn't. I can infer why but I felt it needed to be told from Lupita's viewpoint why dad is having a change of heart.

It did cross my mind that there is quite a bit of content that is going to appeal more to girls than boys. Lupita likes to watch soaps with her mom, thinks about clothes, puts makeup on her mom when she is sick, and cooks, cleans and watches her siblings. The theme of friendship is touched on when she gets into a fight with Mireya and Sarita about loosing her accent and trying to act white. Lupita uses drama to deal with her mom's cancer and her teacher gives some wise advice as she copes. While this is a short novel, it has a higher vocabulary and might be confusing for some readers with no prior knowledge of Mexico and its culture. The glossary will be helpful for defining words. A wonderful novel debut.

Reading Level: Young Adult
4 out of 5 Smileys

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