Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. ISBN 9780375958380
Return to Sender is a realistic fiction novel told from two perspectives, the primary narrative that follows Tyler, and Mari’s letters.
Tyler is the youngest son of a proud Vermont farmer. Throughout the novel he struggles with what is legally right, what is morally right, and whether or not the two have to agree. The most obvious struggle is whether having illegal Mexican workers on the farm, without them Tyler’s family would have to sell the far, makes his family bad. However, another theme (one that crosses between the Mexican workers’ family as well as Tyler’s) is that of loyalty to family.
Mari is the oldest of three daughters and the only Mexican among her sisters. Mari, along with her father, two uncles, and absent mother, are all Mexican. Mari also has two major worries. She worries about immigration (called la migra by her family) finding and deporting her Mexican family, separating them from her two American little sisters, and she worries about her missing mother.
I started off saying Mari’s letters were her perspective. However, they are much more than that. Alvarez uses Spanish headings on the letters (such as 15 agosto 2005) as well as some interesting sentence structure to show that Mari is actually writing in Spanish. The letters are also justified, making them look decidedly different from Tyler’s sections.
Return to Sender explores not only the differences between cultures, but also the things that cross all boundaries. For example, both Tyler and Mari look to the stars to see their dead grandparent. While Tyler discovers he has two homes, the farm and his family, Mari has always known that, like the monarch butterflies and the swallows, her two homes are The United States and Mexico.
A large portion of this book focuses on immigration, mainly illegal due to the fear of la migra, but it also mentions legal immigration. From Tyler and Mari’s Spanish teacher, to a college girl who begins to date Mari’s uncle, legal migrants, and the discussion of legal immigration is threaded throughout the book. In fact, one old man, a very proud American, is reminded that his grandparents were immigrants from Italy. Considering how hot a topic immigration is today, this book would make a good conversation starter.
Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature-2010 (Winner)
Pura Belpre Award-2010 (Winner)
Booklist—“The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. But the young people’s voices make for a fast read; the characters, including the adults, are drawn with real complexity; and the questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.”
Kirkus—“Tyler wonders how he can be a patriot while his family breaks the law. Mari worries about her vanished mother and lives in fear that she will be separated from her American-born sisters if la migra comes. Unashamedly didactic, Alvarez’s novel effectively complicates simple equivalencies between what’s illegal and what’s wrong. Mari’s experience is harrowing, with implied atrocities and immigration raids, but equally full of good people doing the best they can.”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. November 2008. (Vol. 76, No. 22). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=8&isbn=9780375858383
Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. December 2008. (Vol. 105, No. 7). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=8&isbn=9780375858383