Under the Mesquite

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Under the Mesquite Book Poster Image
Latina teen faces mom's cancer in award-winning verse novel.

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

Educational Value

Lupita was born in Coahuila, Mexico, but moved to the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas when she was 6. Just like Lupita, readers will soak up elements of both cultures -- the simplicity and beauty of life back at her grandmother's one-room home in Mexico and the opportunities that await her and her seven siblings en los Estados Unidos. The Spanish words sprinkled throughout the book are usually easily understood through context, but a glossary of Spanish words and phrases is included at the end.                                                                 


Positive Messages

Lupita's Papi works hard to save money so that his eight children will be able to have an easier life when they grow up, and Lupita's Mami wants her to go to community college. But when the family must spend all the money her parents have saved on Mami's cancer treatment, Lupita's father tells her, "Money is inconsequential." Family is valued above all, with education a close second.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As the oldest of eight children, Lupita is a responsible, intelligent, hardworking young woman, determined to be the first in her family to get a college degree. She is honest about the burden of her mother's illness but never begrudges her mother the time or money spent to cure her. Lupita loves school and works hard to excel, both academically and creatively. Although her friends give her a hard time for trying to lose her accent so she can get the lead part in a play, Lupita is sure of who she is and never loses sight of her Mexican roots: "Changing how I talk doesn't change who I am. I know where I came from," she tells them.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Under the Mesquite is a novel written in expressive free verse that follows Lupita through her high school years, with flashbacks to her early childhood in Mexico. Lupita's poetry is filled with more than the usual teen angst, however. With a mother battling cancer, a father who often must leave home to earn money for the family, and seven siblings for whom she, as the eldest, is frequently responsible, Lupita does not have an easy life. Her frequent despair battles with fierce hope and a determination to make something of her life, symbolized by the "feisty little mesquite" that grows in the middle of her mother's rose garden. Under the Mesquite was named an ALA Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association.


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What's the story?

As the oldest of eight, Lupita has a special bond with her mami. When she finds out her mother ther has cancer, she is devastated. With worry about Mami's sickness as a backdrop, Lupita goes through four years of high school, reminiscing about the Mexican homeland she left at age 6, analyzing her relationships with her family and friends, making her way through school as a drama student, and dealing with the heartbreak and worry she feels about her mother. She finds comfort in writing her thoughts in verse under the sturdy mesquite tree in her family's backyard.

Is it any good?

The Spanish words and phrases sprinkled liberally throughout UNDER THE MESQUITE add an exotic flavor to the free verse, yet never inhibit the flow or clarity of the story. Narrator Lupita moves the reader easily back and forth through time, remembering her childhood, thinking about her future, and experiencing the heartbreaking present as she watches her mother's health deteriorate, all while struggling to hold onto her dreams of being a college student, an actress, and a writer.

Under the Mesquite has won numerous awards, was named an ALA Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association, and made the Young Adult Library Services Association's 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Lupita finds strength and inspiration sitting under the mesquite tree in the garden. Is there a place you can go to give you comfort like that?

  • Have you ever had to reverse roles like this and take care of a parent or older person? How did it make you feel?

  • Lupita writes out her sadness (and her joy) in poetry. Do you have a way to express your feelings when you don't feel you can talk about them with anyone?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about teens and high school

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