Review: Return to Sender

July 24, 2011

Alvarez, J. (2009). Return to sender. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers. 336 p. 978-0375858383. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Tyler Paquette’s family farm is in trouble after the death of his grandfather and an injury to his father. When his family hires some migrant workers from Mexico, Tyler is torn between saving the place he loves and upholding the law of the country he loves. As Tyler wrestles with his feelings, he begins to develop a friendship with a daughter of one of the workers, named Mari. Alvarez’s book is timely and sometimes incendiary. She has written two thoughtful characters, Tyler and Mari, with authentic voices. Unfortunately, Alvarez interjects too much of her own voice, thoughts, and beliefs into the adolescents. The result is a wildly uneven, preachy book that condescends its young audience. Alvarez seemingly doesn’t believe her readers can think for themselves or understand the big concepts. It’s too bad, her writing is lyrical and tender enough to have made this a better book.
Additional Thoughts:
Really there are few things that annoy me more than an author who doesn’t have faith in young readers. Alvarez probably spends 200 pages of a 320 page book, explaining every little thing. I get that maybe some readers won’t understand the Spanish words, but it is really obnoxious to read things like, “Hola! That means hello in English” for every single Spanish word used. But she also does it for English words, for every big concept she tries to introduce, and just for squeaks and giggles.
This is also a tough sell for young readers. More so because they are being force-fed Alvarez’s own agenda. It’s an agenda I agree with, but most of the time I was rolling my eyes at how heavy handed she was. Jeez.
This book has already won quite a few awards, and it is up for a William Allen White award in Kansas. My only thoughts on that . . . I hope it doesn’t win. I haven’t hated a book this much in a long time. She is a good writer though. So there’s that.



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