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Paperback Return to Sender Book

ISBN: 0375851232

ISBN13: 9780375851230

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Book Overview

An award-winning, moving, and timely story about the families of undocumented workers by renowned author Julia Alvarez. After Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A timely book for young people (and the not-so-young

I want to disclose that I know the author, but only slightly, and I lived for many years in both Middlebury and Bridport, Vermont. (Bridport is often called Bridgeport by out-of-staters passing through.) So when I see an acknowledgment to Jerry and Cheryl Connor, who own a large and beautiful farm in Bridport, I know I am in once familiar territory. But those were years ago. Today I live in Miami Beach where Spanish dominates English. So let me begin by saying one of the biggest pluses is how skillfully Dr. Alvarez has incorporated Spanish into the text. It reads so smoothly and should be very inviting to those who do not speak Spanish. And in my opinion, Spanish is a beautiful language to hear. (I also teach writing at a local college. Many of my students speak Spanish as their first language, so unlike what my classrooms were like in Vermont.) The characters are delightful. When I grew up in Vermont, it was French-Canadians who populated the migrant farm workers. Maybe today there are more Mexicans. This I would not know. But the story is believable and takes the reader through the complete annual cycle of a farm. However, I could not give this the fifth star for one reason. I have taught all my adult life. Maria's letters are not the letters of a girl her age. I think children and young adults reading this would not object. But as an adult reader--and a voracious one--I don't like having to suspend my belief system for an entire novel. And that is what I had to do because those letters back home to the absent mother in Mari's life are too perfect, letters that a more mature Mari would have composed. Having said that, I realize that the standards for young adult fiction are different than those for adult fiction. I really wish this book would find its way into hundreds and hundreds of classrooms, probably grade six through eight. This really is a political book--and I am pleased it is. Now I am wondering if Dr. Alvarez might be writing, say, about a young girl, born in Puerto Rico, who grows up in Brooklyn and becomes a latina woman on the Supreme Court. I might change my mind about young adult Sonia Sotomayor's letters to someone. I suspect she would have written brilliant prose and lengthy too.

Look into the Heavens

Julia Alvarez knows how to characterize the blur in the line between right and wrong. She knows how to make it clear that reality and morality are continuums and not dichotomies of this or that, up or down, or yes or no. There are no absolutes. (Now, there's an oxymoron.) We have a long way to go. Alvarez begins with a young man, her protagonist, Tyler, the younger eleven-year-old son in a family who has survived and thrived by running a dairy farm in Vermont. The family's farming heritage is at risk. Tyler's older brother is away at college, mostly unavailable to help out on the farm without jeopardizing his education and eventual career, and Tyler's father has been injured and disabled, perhaps permanently, in a farming accident. Tyler's father can't do the work he normally did. It is unclear when and if he ever will be able to do the work again. Extended family also can't adequately help out. So paying the bills and keeping the farm is at risk. The family needs help or to change their dynamics: selling the farm, moving from their land, doing something entirely different than farming. Tyler's parents eventually hire undocumented immigrants --- a couple of men --- to assist with the dairy work. One of the immigrant men is married and has three daughters. The oldest, Mari, slowly becomes Tyler's friend and ally, an unfolding as miraculous as springtime. Mari's mother has disappeared in the murky criminal element that arose to fulfill the void created by ambiguities in United States immigrant policies, underfunded policies that for years tacitly approved of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States to work in jobs that citizens in better times didn't want to do. The analysis of various notions is tenderly at play in Alvarez's book: What is a family? What does it mean to be honest? What good is it to have a law without compassion, or without implementing it and adequately funding its substantial enforcement? What does it mean to be a good neighbor and a friend? What sacrifices are appropriate and necessary of good neighbors and friends? And does all of that that apply only to individuals and not to communities and to nations? What is charity? Is it a weakness or strength? What about religion and the mystical, and gazing into the heavens? Hope? "... life is about change, change, and more change. 'When you're born as a child, you die as a baby. Just like when you're born as a teenager, you die as a child.'... 'But there are good sides even to bad or sad things happening,' my mom reminds me...." This is a coming of age adventure where a boy and a girl have more love and compassion than the men and the women do, where a couple of families have greater diplomacy toward each other than the greatest nations on earth do for each other. So it would be good to take their advice and look into the heavens and contemplate the beauty of the night before flying apart. Not just one star but five.

Transcends all borders and will join together many young readers in a new age

Julia Alvarez takes on America's uneasy immigration policies in her latest young adult offering. RETURN TO SENDER begins with a foreboding incident: 11-year-old Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, and their rural Vermont dairy farm needs immediate help. Hiring an unauthorized immigrant family from Mexico brings a solution to their problems, but young Tyler thinks that saving the farm may not be worth the higher price of breaking the law. Mari is the oldest of the three daughters in the immigrant family. She is not only dealing with the disappearance of her mother but also beginning a new life far away from the things and people she loves. Alvarez examines Tyler and Mari's friendship, allowing it to blossom under the veil of moral shadows, with each child weighing the plausibility of their situation as well as the fearful expectations of what will come should the authorities find out about Mari's family. As the two grow closer, the intensity of the world's injustices regarding immigration policies becomes even more painful and realistic to them and, thus, to the reader. Alvarez is a pro, a consummate writer who can find an interesting debate line between right and wrong and still manage to instill a humanistic edge to the discussion. By making the protagonists young, she offers the opportunities that come from youthful observation: the possibility of finding a new way of doing things, the ability to admit when something so cemented in one's culture is not working and must be changed. The rising sense of advocacy for new legal strictures is a fascinating by-product of this story about how young people can reach hands across cultural differences and find a place in the middle that provides a safe harbor for friendship and understanding between others with so much to keep them apart. Immigration policies are unveiled in an emotional way. The burdens of anger and fear that Mari's family suffers under are palpable in their talk and deeds, and Tyler learns some nasty truths about his homeland that will surely stun and move young people as well as older ones. Julia Alvarez has created a remarkably solid and unforgettable story in RETURN TO SENDER. It transcends all borders and will join together many young readers in a new age. --- Reviewed by Jana Siciliano

Richie's Picks: RETURN TO SENDER

To the parents of eleven-year-old Tyler Paquette, the family of Mexican workers who have come to live in the trailer on their Vermont dairy farm are angels. Tyler had actually seen the tractor roll over, trapping his father underneath. He's had horrible nightmares about it ever since. If Tyler had not been there to call 9-1-1, his father wouldn't be alive today. Nevertheless, his father may never recover the full use of his arm and leg and -- given that Tyler's big brother is heading off to college at the end of the summer and his teenage sister is about as likely to help with the cows as my teenage daughter is to help me tend to my dairy goats (NOT!) -- it had been looking like Tyler might never have the opportunity to grow up to become a fifth-generation Vermont family farmer. "I remember the fear of serpents, the sharp rocks, the lights of la migra. And always, the terrible thirst...I am not sure even this paper can hold such terrifying memories." Mari is Tyler's age. She is an illegal alien. She has arrived on a bus from North Carolina with her illegal alien father, her two illegal alien uncles, and her two little sisters who were born in North Carolina. Last winter Mari's mom suddenly returned to their homeland in southern Mexico because her mother -- Mari's Abulita -- was dying. Now the family has lost contact with Mama who is hopefully still alive and presumably still trying to sneak across the border and return to North Carolina. Fearing potential repercussions, Mari's father has persuaded her not to try to actually mail any of the long letters that she has been writing to Mama. But how, then, might the family ever become reunited? "That is why I am writing, Mama. Not only to tell you where we are moving to, but also because I have nowhere else to put the things that are in my heart. As you always used to tell Papa when he found you writing letters, or just writing in a notebook, 'El papel lo aguanta todo.' Paper can hold anything. Sorrows that might otherwise break your heart. Joys with wings that lift you above the sad things in your life." Told from the perspectives of Tyler and Mari -- two sixth graders living on a dairy farm in small town Vermont in 2005 -- RETURN TO SENDER is a story of families and hope and opportunities offered by the country I love and am sometimes so proud of -- and opportunities withheld by the country I often haven't understood and have sometimes been embarrassed by. Why is it that it is a crime for one of these sixth graders to have been born in Mexico? How will it affect things for Tyler to be classmates with Mari, to be in the position of knowing Mari is an illegal alien and -- at the same time -- to recognize that his future as a farmer is so dependent on keeping knowledge of that legal status well hidden? When is it okay -- even admirable -- to participate in breaking laws and when have American heroes participated in doing so? On the lighter side, RETURN TO SENDER fr

Courtesy of Teens Read Too

Julia Alvarez's new book, RETURN TO SENDER, explores the issue of illegal immigration. Two twelve-year-olds share their connected stories involving this politically sensitive subject. Tyler's family runs a dairy farm. Up until the sudden death of his grandfather and then his father's farming accident, things had been going well. Now that his older brother is leaving for college, there isn't enough help around to do all that needs doing on the farm. Tyler returns from a visit to his aunt and uncle's to learn that some new folks have moved into the trailer next door. The new people include a Mexican man, his two brothers, and his three daughters. There seems to be some secret about their presence on the farm that Tyler doesn't understand. They have started helping with the milking and other chores and seem to be a big help for his father; however, his mother seems hesitant to reveal too much information about the family. From comments around town and the little bit Tyler overhears from his parents' discussions, he finally realizes that they might actually be breaking the law. The new workers are in the U.S. illegally. According to the information Tyler has gathered, not only could these new workers be arrested, but his parents could also be found guilty because they've hired the undocumented workers. Even though they seem to be saving the farm, they could bring more trouble than they are worth. When school begins in September, Tyler learns that Mari, the oldest daughter, will be in his class. They begin talking and Tyler discovers that Mari is shy but friendly. As their friendship grows, he finds himself not thinking about her questionable status in his country; that is, until she becomes the victim of several cruel bullies in his class. In his attempt to defend Mari, he and his family also become a target. Tyler experiences some difficult times as he struggles to understand loyalty to friends, family, and country. Mari's voice is heard through letters and diary entries as she recounts her view of living in the United States. Love for her own country and her appreciation for what the U.S. has to offer are both clear as she reacts to the situations around her. RETURN TO SENDER presents a sympathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants. It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners. Though the issue is much more complicated, perhaps this book's message could give today's politicians something to think about. Reviewed by: Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky"
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