Lupita, the main character in Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s novel in verse, is a seventeen year old girl who is the oldest of eight children. When Lupita is young, her parents move the family from Piedras Negras, Mexico to “los Estados Unidos” (the United States). The family’s ties to Mexico remain strong, as many weekends and summer vacations are spent in Piedras Negras. The reader quickly learns that Lupita’s strong and beloved mother, the sun which the family revolves around, has cancer. Lupita is devastated, but as the oldest child she is duty-bound to compartmentalize her sorrow in order to survive school and help care for her seven younger siblings. Lupita is a talented poet and aspiring actress, and she learns to use these methods of expression as an outlet for her confusing and sometimes suffocating emotions.
McCall’s lyrical novel in verse evokes intense sorrow, the warmth of family connectedness, and the pride of cultural identity and traditions. “It’s the look at an immigrant family, balancing traditions and cultures” (Burns 2012). Lupita spends her childhood traveling back and forth between Mexico and the United States. She is a child of two cultures and is proud of both, but it is difficult to live in two worlds. In one scene, Lupita’s friends Sarita and Mireya return Lupita’s misplaced journal in which she writes her thoughts in the form of poetry. Fearing that her friends have read her secret thoughts, Lupita says, “My heart becomes a butterfly / trapped in a glass jar, beating / its wings wildly in my chest”. The next stanza contains an excerpt from Lupita’s journal, which describes her friends in a moment of cruelty: “all the girls around me / dropped their scarlet / mouths wide-open, like a circle / of Venus flytraps.” McCall’s use of similes and metaphors, as presented above, are outstanding.
Peppered throughout the book are words and phrases in Spanish. Some of the words are easy to figure out with context clues, but others require the use of the handy glossary located at the back of the book. These Spanish words and phrases add an extra depth to Lupita’s cultural identity and her family’s traditions. In the end, Lupita’s loss becomes her motivation; she is a stronger, better, and more beautiful person for it. It is no surprise that this book was awarded the 2012 Pura Belpre Award.
This book is an excellent bridge to discussions of cultural identity for teens. Ask teens to make a list of five to ten things they believe is part of their culture. The lists can include foods, words and phrases, holidays, clothing styles, or anything else that the teens may think of. Encourage each teen to write a poem using at least three items from his or her list. Take this opportunity to discuss different types of poems, such as haiku, limericks, and free verse.
Burns, Elizabeth. January 2012. School Library Journal. http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2012/01/16/review-under-the-mesquite/. Accessed October 6, 2013.