Lupita is the eldest daughter of eight siblings. When her mother's cancer won't stay in remission, Lupita has to decide what is more important: taking care of her family or pursuing her dreams.
This sure has been one heck of a year for author Guadalupe Garcia McCall! Her debut novel, Under the Mesquite, was published. And then it became a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award. And then it won the Pura Belpre Author Award. Wow.
Under the Mesquite is my third novel in verse this month, and it stands out as the most "novel like." Let me explain what I mean. For me, many novels in verse are just sooo slim, they read more like short stories or collections of poetry. But Under the Mesquite has some weight to it. Many of the free verse poems go on for several pages, so I actually felt like I was reading whole chapters, rather than little snippets of a story. Even so, this story flew by.
All of the books that I've read this month about Mexican families have featured a similar theme: an inner struggle between duty/loyalty to one's family and personal hopes and dreams. Lupita's story absolutely shared that same theme. Her family moved to los Estados Unidos from Mexico when she was young, and while she still covets weekends spent across the border with her abuelita's family, she adapted quickly to American life - even losing her accent with the help of her drama teacher.
I don't want to give too much away, but I thought the way Lupita handled herself, especially as a teenager, was pretty amazing. She was incredibly selfless. Although at times, I found it strange that she showed so little emotion. I mean, she was a senior in high school, her mother was dying of cancer, she more or less became full time mom to 7 siblings, and for a while they literally had to go begging to the neighbors for dinner ingredients because they had absolutely no food and no money to buy any. But I think she only cried - or really even acted upset - a small handful of times. That just really struck me as odd. At one point I realized that, although they were going through something devastating, I just didn't have any emotional attachment to any of the characters.
That being said, I found this debut novel to be an interesting look at a culture and set of experiences that is very different from my own. I'll look forward to reading more of Guadalupe Garcia McCall's work in the future - particularly if she continues writing novels in verse!
I would recommend Under the Mesquite to readers who appreciate Mexican culture, who enjoy novels in verse, and who are struggling with their own decisions between duty and dreams. It would be equally appropriate for middle and high school readers.
Cancer has more than
invaded our home.
It has closed the doors
behind itself, drawn the curtains,
and locked us in for good.