By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
YA Novel in verse
Lee & Low Books
Lupita is the oldest child in a growing family of Mexican-Americans who love each other very much. Even so, she feels her bond with her beloved mother is the closest of all. To prove this, she searches through her mother's purse to find a small, wizened brown thing. It is her umbilical cord. Her Mami saved it.
So begins Guadalupe Garcia McCall's debut book, a novel in free verse that describes Lupita's coming of age. The verses include the longing for Mexico even as their family puts down roots (and plants roses bushes amid which a stubborn mesquite thrives) in Texas, Lupita's discovery of drama class and poetry, and her mother's cancer.
In one of the most dramatic parts of the story, Lupita is put in charge of her younger siblings while her father goes out of town to stay with her hospitalized mother. The children don't obey her, neighbors and relatives resent giving them food for such a prolonged period -- apparently an entire summer -- and Lupita marvels at how easily her mother took care of them.
However, in this section, as in the others, any emotional impact is supplied by the reader. McCall's understated verse is bare bones writing that calls upon her readers to enrich Lupita's small moments and larger journey.
Under the Mesquite won this year's Pura Belpré honors as work that "portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth", as stated on its American Library Association home page. While it's not the best written piece of literature, with poetry on the level of what its young readers will be able to write themselves, it is an important work in putting on the pages of a book experiences that speak directly to young Latino/Latina readers. McCall, herself a teacher, has written a book that will be shared in many classrooms and libraries.
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