Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall ISBN: 9781600604294
Plot Summary: When Lupita’s mother gets cancer, Lupita finds herself taking care of her seven younger siblings while her father cares for their mother. She juggles this with high school homework, her dreams to be an actress, and friends who don’t understand what’s changed. She finds quiet and time to reflect under a mesquite tree in the backyard. The poems that she writes help her to deal with all the responsibilities and her fears of losing her mother forever.
Critical Evaluation: In general, I love poetry, but I have a harder time with novels in verse. It is hard to write a beautiful and evocative poem that also gets across plot points and character development of a longer story. These poems are skillfully and sometimes artfully written, but their main purpose is really to get across the story. There are metaphors and vibrant images, like when Lupita compares herself to a dormant cicada, or babies to pennies from heaven. Like many other novels in verse, I find this one to simply be a more thoughtfully worded and differently structured novel. I don’t mean this to be an insult. I just mean that it doesn’t fit the idea I have of a poem in my head.
As for the story, it is a fascinating one and valuable topic for a teen. I think most are somewhat oblivious to the possibility that their parents could get sick and not be able to care for them. As teens get older, they do transition to having more responsibilities, and testing the waters of being an adult. So contemplating adding responsibilities to those you already have is scary, but good to contemplate. This story adeptly demonstrates the practical and emotional burdens added, and offers ideas of how to cope.
Lupita is remarkably good at adapting to her new responsibilities, even though she struggles with them. This is established to a certain extent when we learn that she frequently helps her parents with taking care of the household, even before her mother gets sick, but still feels surprising. With a novel in verse, and the shorter story usually inherent in this style, there is less room to provide details. The reader must take emotions on face value and assume that there is more lurking between the lines. I occasionally encourage reluctant readers to read novels in verse, but the more I consider them, the more I wonder if you need to be a little more skilled at inference when you undertake a book like this one.
Reader’s Annotation: Lupita has always helped her parents around the house. But now Lupita’s mother has cancer, and she finds herself juggling schoolwork, housework, and taking care of her seven younger brothers and sisters.
Information about the author (taken from book jacket and Goodreads): Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Coahuila, Mexico. Her family moved to Texas when she was a young girl. She attended Sul Rose State University to study theater arts, English and get a teacher’s certificate.
She now teaches English and Language Arts at a junior high school. She lives with her husband and three sons in the San Antonio, Texas area. This novel was inspired by the experiences of Guadalupe’s family during her teen years.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Novel in Verse
Curriculum ties, if any: I would associate this with a poetry unit, or perhaps conversation about responsibilities and family.
Booktalking Ideas: I would promote this book for readers of poetry and other verse novels, like Ellen Hopkins’ books. I would also appeal to reader’s empathetic sides by asking them to imagine what they would do if one of their parents got sick and they needed to take care of their siblings.
Reading Level/Interest Age: Lupita is in high school, and deals with things that most younger readers don’t have to think about, so I think in that sense it can appeal to an older reader. The lack of language or controversial elements make it appropriate for younger readers as well. School Library Journal recommends this book for readers in grades 7 and up.
Challenge Issues: None
Why did you include this book? : I wanted to include a story in verse, since I think this is becoming a popular method of storytelling, and one that might appeal to reluctant readers. This book also incorporates the Mexican American immigrant story not present in any of my other selections.
Biography for Guadalupe Garcia McCall (2013). Goodreads. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2924895.Guadalupe_Garcia_McCall