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Return to Sender

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
Return to Sender Book Poster Image
Intense story about illegal immigration and friendship.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Show some of the the issues and hardships illegal immigrants face. Immigration laws are touched on but not fully described.

Positive Messages

Explores the issue of illegal immigration from both the farmer and worker perspectives. Hiring illegal immigrants is explained by parents as "not wrong in God's eyes" and "sometimes a country has laws that have nothing to do with what's right or what's best for most of the people involved."

Positive Role Models & Representations

A central worry for both main characters is breaking the law and getting caught. Enforcers are presented negatively. The grandmother tells a "white lie" and Tyler fibs to his mom, but these "white lies" are presented as purposeful.


A character dies suddenly of a heart attack and another is involved in a tractor accident in which he gets pinned under it and injured. Both events happen before the start of the story. It's mentioned that Mari's mother went missing and was sold into slavery, but Mari eventually rescued her.


One sexual reference: "He finally got laid."


"Ohmigod," "hell," "damn."


Oprah is mentioned, as is McDonald's and Coca-Cola. The youngest sister watches Dora on TV, and the family shops at Walmart.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A mention of fraternity boys with a 12-pack. Also, on Mother's Day, the family buys beer and a bottle of champagne, which makes the grandmother's cheeks turn pink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Return to Sender explores illegal immigration in a sympathetic way (immigration laws are not fully described and enforcers are presented negatively), as readers come to know the hearts and minds of both the Vermont family and the Mexican family in the story. The issues and moral dilemmas facing the two main characters, Tyler and Mari, are serious and heavy -- they both worry constantly about breaking the law and getting caught, and are wrought with fear and anxiety. It's mentioned that Mari's mother went missing and was sold into slavery, but Mari eventually rescued her.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydeannad44 October 11, 2012

Friends Beyond Borders

Return To Sender by Julia Alavarez is a touching children’s novel that won the Pura Belpre Award. It is about a young boy, Tyler, who comes back from his aunt a... Continue reading
Adult Written bySeattleLibrarian March 25, 2013

Great book club choice!

I used this book with gifted readers in grades 3 & 4 and it was a huge hit. The kids found the plot gripping and the storyline opened their eyes to a wo... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old August 2, 2016

Somewhat Intense, Emotional, But Heartwarming Book

First off, I want to say this book is very emotional. Strong emotions are being portrayed to the point where at some points, I almost cried from the sadness of... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bycmmd August 24, 2013

Return to Sender

I had to read this book for my summer reading in English class. I am 12 but I think it is fine for any kid 9 and up. There are a few immigration scenes but none... Continue reading

What's the story?

Eleven-year old Tyler worries about losing his Vermont farm after the sudden death of his grandfather and a tractor accident leaves his father unable to work. Tyler is desperate to save his farm from being sold. But after his father hires a family of illegal Mexican workers, Tyler wonders if saving the farm is worth breaking the law. Soon Tyler meets Mari, the eldest daughter in the Mexican family. While initially wary of each other, Tyler and Mari soon form a unique friendship that opens their eyes to the lives of the other. Both kids worry about their families and their future, and come to realize that they are forever connected through their shared struggles.

Is it any good?

RETURN TO SENDER is a compassionate narrative that puts a human heart to the hot-button topic of illegal immigration. The story portrays the desire for a better life and how hard work is the means to achieve it. The author captures the intense emotions of both farmer and worker, and tells the story through the questioning innocence of children. However, the main characters -- both 11 years old -- are strapped with enormous emotional burdens and life's adult responsibilities, and the story is laden with their fear and worry.

Parents and educators will find this an important and significant read, but the question remains if kids will actually enjoy reading it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their own perspectives of illegal immigration. How do you feel about illegal workers being hired to aid farming communities?

  • Did Mari's story help you understand and sympathize with illegal workers?

  • How do you feel about illegal immigration? Do you think the laws that exist should be changed or more strongly enforced? What would you do to fix the system if you could?

  • Families can also talk about the role of immigrants in U.S. history. Do you know any relatives that came from other countries? How did they get to the U.S.? What was their story?

Book details

For kids who love coming-of-age and Latino stories

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