Esperanza Rising is the story of a girl who loses everything, her father, her home, her life of luxury and her dreams of the future. When tragedy strikes, Esperanza and her mother find that their only hope is to leave Mexico and try to start over as farm workers in California. In addition to learning how to do basic daily tasks that had always been done by her servants, Esperanza must learn to stand on her own two feet. Set at the time of the Great Depression Esperanza Rising takes on issues of discrimination and prejudice, the beginnings of striking and unionization of workers and the terrifying sweeps done by Immigration which sent millions back to Mexico, many of whom were in the US legally or even held US citizenship.
While it contains much sadness and hope, the real thing pushing up the reading level is the discussion of strikes and Immigration raids. Without any background knowledge some readers may struggle to make sense of Esperanza’s world. The book contains much for discussion whether in a classroom setting or with family. I would recommend this for Grade 6 and up. Also a bonus – despite having a reading level that could be handled by sixth graders, the content in this book requires enough critical thinking that it could be used with high school students who were reading below grade level.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – After Esperanza’s father’s death, his brother proposes to Esperanza’s mother. Miguel takes Esperanza’s hand.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Esperanza’s father is murdered. On a train ride, Esperanza notices crosses and flowers near the tracks and wonders if they are marking where other girls’ fathers had died. Esperanza meets a girl whose father died in the Mexican revolution fighting against rich landowners. When there is the threat of strike the company arms their men with guns. Strikers throw rocks at laborers who will not strike. The strikers hide snakes, rats and razor blades in produce crates to slow down or deter the people who are still working.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Esperanza’s home is burned and they all must escape the fire. Esperanza’s mother becomes very ill.