The Plot: At the beginning of Lupita’s freshman year at high school, her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Mami has always been the one who held their large family together. Lupita, as the oldest, has always been responsible. Now even more falls on her shoulders. Like the mesquite, Lupita will survive and grow stronger.
The Good: Under the Mesquite is told by Lupita, using free verse. The reader is pulled into Lupita’s world: the eldest of eight children, born in Mexico and raised in the United States. Her father works hard, her mother holds the family together. Lupita figures out her mother is ill:
My heart aches
beause I have heard the word
that she keeps tucked away
behind closed doors.
“What do you know?” Mami asks.
We lock eyes,
and she knows I know.
“Don’t tell the others,” she begs,
and I hold her while she cries.
School becomes an escape for Lupita, even if sometimes her friends say something thoughtless. In acting, she can channel her emotions. In writing, she can express her feelings. While, at home, she worries about her mother, her father, her siblings.
Under the Mesquite is a window into a family dealing with cancer; but it is also more than that. It’s the look at an immigrant family, balancing traditions and cultures. It’s parents saving money for their children’s future until medical bills eat up the savings. It’s a family whose life is full. It’s the story of Lupita, as she balances her roles of sister and daughter, of caretaker and child.