Ryan, P.M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc.
LS5360 – Pura Belpre, ALA Notable, Bluebonnet. This one came from my daughter’s shelf, and she said she’d read it in 5th grade book club. This gets another LOVE it! from me. It is beautifully written and woven into real historical events; it opened my eyes a bit to the plight of the Mexican immigrants in the 30s – and how much has not changed for them.
Exposition: The setting of the story begins in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on a vineyard ranch known as El Rancho de las Rosas, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. We meet our main character, six-year-old Esperanza Ortega, learning life lessons as she walks her father’s vineyard with him. The story then jumps six years ahead, and we are introduced to other main characters, Miguel, Abuelita, and Esperanza’a mother, Ramona Ortega. The novel is told in third person, by a narrator who only has access to Esperanza’s thoughts.
Conflict: Esperanza’s idyllic life is shattered when her father is killed by bandits. His brothers, Tío Luis and Tío Marco, burn down the lavish ranch house and drive Esperanza and her mother Ramona to leave Mexico and provide a threat to Abuelita, who must remain behind. Esperanza must learn to adapt from living as a wealthy, privileged child to a new life as a poor migrant in California.
Rising Action: The majority of the book is dedicated to the rising action, as Esperanza’s whole world is changed, going from riches to rags. She must learn to live with, and be like people she once viewed as servants (and realize their human value), and she must learn basic skills from cleaning to cooking, as well as child care and skilled work related to harvesting. As she seems to have things under control, her mother turns gravely ill and is hospitalized for months on end, and Esperanza has to learn to be completely responsible for earning money to live, pay her mother’s bills, and figure out a way to get Abuelita out of Mexico.
Climax: The climax occurs when Miguel brings Abuelita to California. This is the most significant turning point because it proves to Esperanza that everything will be all right in California. Furthermore, Abuelita’s escape from Mexico is a final victory over Tío Luis and Tío Marco, who tried to prevent her from leaving. When Abuelita comes to California, Tío Luis and Tío Marco no longer have any power over Esperanza’s family.
Falling Action: With Ramona out of the hospital and Abuelita with them, the two significant hurdles in Esperanza’s life have been overcome. Esperanza realizes that having family is more important than having material possessions, and she begins to be at peace with her life and new stature.
Resolution: The resolution occurs at the very end of the book, when Esperanza and Miguel listen to the earth. This happens a full year after the tragedy of her father’s death, and circles back to how the book began. Esperanza has learned how to be rich in being poor.
Literary Elements: The imagery and figurative language are what make the novel rich and memorable. The book starts out with Esperanza’s father teaching her, “Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand” (1.9), to remind her of the importance of patience and hard work. The quote and the theme are repeated throughout the book, in a number of different contexts. Also repeated is the crocheting of a blanket, in a zigzag pattern, representing the ups and downs of life. The figurative language is plentiful personification on the very first page (the earth breathing and having a heart beat), but also in the use of similes and metaphors throughout.