Esperanza Rising: A Review

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Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan has everything I love in a novel. It has gorgeous imagery and historical interest that hooked me into what happened in the world we live in along with a plot that kept me turning pages.

The vivid descriptions of both the ranch where Esperanza spent her early years and the California farm scenes in the 1920’s pulled me into the characters’ world.

I also learned that the U.S. immigration officials in the 20’s and 30’s often deported US citizens if they tried to strike for better conditions. The growers had power with the government officials. Perhaps because I have seen too much, I was not surprised about this. I was, however, surprised about the numbers of workers who faced deportation. Ryan says in an author’s note that ‘at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans’ were sent to Mexico (often because they ‘looked’ Mexican) from 1929-1935 in an effort to improve the unemployment problems in the U.S. at the time. The job outlook did not improve.

My only complaint in  the story itself was Esperanza’s young love interest Miguel. He felt a little too perfect. I could wish a few flaws on him to make him feel more human.

While reading the story of Esperanza, I also remembered something about myself as a reader. I need the lyrical language to get myself into a book, and then I will skim that beautiful language mercilessly in order to find out ‘what happens next’ like some sort of super plot junkie. That’s again why I often do better with the audio books if I want to soak up all of what the author has to say, but I do love it when the plot keeps me going enough to move quickly.

To sum it up once more: Esperanza Rising is an eye opener with beautiful language, lovable characters and a plot that pulled me through. If you liked Ryan’s previous books or others such as Moon Over Manifest by Vanderpool, you can pick up a copy of Esperanza Rising, too, and know it will keep your thoughts in its pages after you finish. 

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A Shocking Fear

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Two weeks ago I took a class entitled “I EAT FEAR” taught by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe as a part of her 38 Write series. After some self reflection, I chose to eat my fear of electricity. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t triumph. But here’s what I wrote for the class:

Electric shock. I abhor electric shock. And my teenage son happened to get a god awful shocking ball as a Christmas present from relatives who know him well. He loves it. The sight of it makes my stomach lurch.

I called my son who is at his dad’s house for the weekend and asked him where to find the electric ball in the wasteland of his room. It’s the size of a baseball, and deep inside it’s the color of a blue ocean with yellow writing shouting ‘warning’ with illustrations of bolts of electricity. 18 dime sized metal pieces lay around the ball over clear plastic. When I look through the blue interior, I see a nest of electric wires connecting the metal pieces.

My teen told me I needed to use a pen to click the on switch through the center of the ball. He said it would shock in 5 seconds and then again every 20 seconds. My ‘conquer the fear’ plan today was to lay the toddler down for his nap, take my own nap and then shock myself with the ball.

The napping parts of my plan went smoothly. But when I picked up that ball and held the pen over the switch, my heart lurched like my stomach. Again my rational mind said it couldn’t hurt that bad. My son does it for fun. FUN. But I couldn’t get myself to push that button. Could not.

Forgive me Fear Eaters, but I’m waiting till the teen gets home. I’ll watch him enjoy the shock first. Then be brave enough to do it with him watching. This, I’m hoping will help me in two ways. First, he’s very supportive, and I know he’ll be kind in walking me through this. Second, as his mother, I’ll feel obligated to show him that I can face my fears. Mother guilt is a powerful motivator.

I wish I could do this now. It’s the blasted assignment, after all. But I am proud I even picked up the ball from my son’s room and examined it to describe it here. Baby steps.

And even though I didn’t conquer today, playing with the shocking ball makes me feel more alive. Not blissed out in a state of Zen-like peace alive. But bolts of electricity coursing through me alive.

 

Because I know you’ll ask, yes, I did zap myself with the rotten ball when my son got home to help me. I didn’t procrastinate with a nap like before. It also helped that the ball didn’t even wait the 5 seconds to keep me in suspense. As soon as Kieran handed it to me, it got me.

I believe my exact words were, “Oh! That hurt and I didn’t like it!” as I quickly handed it back to the brave pain loving boy.

But here’s the thing. The pain wasn’t as bad as the fear I’d had of it. I’ve started trying out Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice since then and tackled new heart pounding moments. It turns out that it’s fun to peck away at my fears and do what scares me. Even with stupid electric balls.

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” -Eleanor Roosevelt