Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Esperanza, who lives with her mother, father, grandmother, and servants in Mexico in the 1930s. She is very rich and her life is very good until one night, Esperanza’s dad is shot and killed by bandits. Her uncle, Tío Luis, burns everything down and threatens to do worse unless Esperanza’s mother married him. Her mother says no, and they flee to America with the help of three of their servants: Hortensia, Alfonso, and their son Miguel. Esperanza soon learns that true wealth does not mean that you have lots of money.
When they leave for America, they are forced to leave Esperanza’s grandmother, Abuelita, because she hurt her ankle and can’t make the trip. Miguel says that he and his family were planning on going to America anyway, and that life there is better, because they don’t have to be servants. “In America you can work your way up to a good wage, and I could be more than a servant,” Miguel tells Esperanza. Esperanza believes him, until they actually get to America.
Once there, Esperanza is horrified that they all have to share two tiny housing units with another family whom already lives there. The family arranged for them to live there, because they are relatives of Miguel’s. Everybody except Esperanza is happy. While the parents and Miguel are working, she and the other girl that lives there, Isabel, have to take care of the two babies in the house. But soon Isabel goes off to school, and Esperanza must take care of them by herself.
She does not like it, and she wants her old life back. She’s wants her land, her nice dresses, her free time … she hates this new life! But slowly she becomes accustomed to it, and her previous life is now just a story to her, a fairytale that couldn’t possibly be true anymore. When her mother comes down with Valley Fever and is hospitalized, everything shatters for Esperanza. Her mother was her last family member with her, and she cannot lose her! The doctor explains that her mother is not getting better because of stress. She had lost so much in so little time, and the sickness just opened up the floodgates for her mother. Esperanza is convinced that if she can bring her Abuelita back, that her mother would get better.
So Esperanza starts working with the rest of the adults after she finds somebody to take care of the babies for her. When Esperanza almost has enough money, she and Miguel have a big fight. Americans are coming in from other states to get jobs, and even though they aren’t even half as experienced as the Mexicans are, they are still getting paid much more. Because of that, Miguel lost his job and Esperanza is angry because Miguel seems fine with it. She screams, telling him that he is still a servant. “You aid things would be so much better here in America, but they aren’t,” she tells him.
The next morning, Miguel is gone. Everybody is sad, and Miguel’s father mentions that he thinks he went to the north to find a new job. Soon after, Esperanza’s mother gets better and is allowed to come home. Esperanza tells her mother about everything, and then finally says that she’s been saving up money to get Abuelita to come. But when Esperanza looks at where she’s kept her money, it was all gone! Everybody then suspects Miguel, and Esperanza is even more angry with him than before.
When Miguel shows up one day, everybody is shocked. They are even more shocked when he comes back with Abuelita. He says that he snuck back into Mexico and past Tío Luis, and got Abuelita here for Esperanza. After that, everything is well again, and Esperanza doesn’t care that she is has no money anymore, because she is still rich.
As you can see, Esperanza learns that being rich doesn’t mean that you have a lot of money. She knows that it means having your family with you, and being happy with what you have. This was excellently written, and is a great read.