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Return to Sender

Return to Sender

3.8 42
by Julia Alvarez

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An award-winning, moving, and timely story about the families of undocumented workers by renowned author Julia Alvarez.
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are


An award-winning, moving, and timely story about the families of undocumented workers by renowned author Julia Alvarez.
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?
In a novel full of hope, but with no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.
Winner of the Pura Belpré Award
Winner of the Américas Award
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
“A must-read.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Communicates in compassionate and expressive prose the more difficult points of perhaps the most pressing social issue of our day.” —San Antonio Express-News

“This timely novel, torn right from the newspaper headlines, conveys a positive message of cooperation and understanding.” —School Library Journal
“The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. . . . The questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.” —Booklist
“A tender, well-constructed book.” —Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After Tyler's father's accident, his family hires undocumented Mexican workers in a last-ditch effort to keep their Vermont farm. Despite his reservations, Tyler soon bonds with a worker's daughter, who is in his sixth-grade class. His problems seem small compared to Mari's: her family fears deportation, and her mother has been missing since re-entering the States months ago. While this novel is certainly issue-driven, Alvarez (Before We Were Free) focuses on her main characters, mixing in Mexican customs and the touching letters that Mari writes to her mother, grandmother and even the U.S. president. Readers get a strong sense of Tyler's growing maturity, too, as he navigates complicated moral choices. Plot developments can be intense: Mari's uncle lands in jail, and her mother turns out to have been kidnapped and enslaved during her crossing. Some characters and sentiments are over-the-top, but readers will be moved by small moments, as when Tyler sneaks Mari's letter to her imprisoned uncle, watching as the man puts his palm on the glass while Tyler holds up the letter from the other side. A tender, well-constructed book. Ages 8-12. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Janice DeLong
Although going into the sixth grade may have its challenges, Tyler has become somewhat hardened to those since his father's farming accident has left him handicapped and in need of more help than his son can provide. With his older brother going off to college, Tyler feels even more burdened by the running the farm than when his role was just that of second son and younger brother. On awakening one morning to find new faces occupying the trailer where hired help has stayed in the past, the young farmer is both relieved and confused. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Will they be able to save the farm? Are they even legal? Thus, begins the saga of lots of gray areas and little black and white in this young adult novel expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants. Alvarez alternates voices from chapter to chapter, giving readers varying views of some difficult questions. Tyler's mom is a teacher. His father has been successfully managing a farm that is a legacy from generations back. After the accident, there must be more hands, and financial means are limited. To add interest and empathy, alternating chapters are from the point of view of Mari, a daughter of one of the Mexican workers. Mari wants to stay in the United States, but her mother has returned to Mexico and has become lost to her family. Interwoven in the story of Tyler's secure family structure is the dysfunction of Mari's. Readers are also brought face to face with the cruelty of the "coyotes" that promise safe passage into the States, but instead steal money and make their own countrymen and women slaves. Because of some understated sexual situations, readers below eleven may lack the maturity to read this book.Also bothersome is the painting of ICE officers in entirely unpleasant colors when they enforce the law. However, older readers need to look at the realities occurring on both sides of the border, and both sides of the illegal immigrant question. Maybe the next generation will have some plausible answers. Reviewer: Janice DeLong
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7

Sixth-grader Tyler Paquette lives in a dairy-farming community in Vermont. His father was injured in a tractor accident and must now turn to undocumented Mexican laborers to run the farm. Thus, a trailer on the property soon becomes home to the Cruz family-sixth-grader Mari, her two younger sisters, father, and two uncles, all needing work to survive and living with fear of la migra . They have had no word on Mari's mother, missing now for several months. Tyler and Mari share an interest in stargazing, and their extended families grow close over the course of one year with holiday celebrations and shared gatherings. Third-person chapters about Tyler alternate with Mari's lengthy, unmailed letters to her mother and diary entries. Touches of folksy humor surface in the mismatched romance of Tyler's widowed Grandma and cranky Mr. Rossetti. When "coyotes" contact Mr. Cruz and set terms for his wife's freedom, Tyler secretly loans the man his savings, then renegotiates a promised birthday trip in order to accompany Mari to North Carolina to help rescue her abused mother. When immigration agents finally raid the farm and imprison both Cruz parents, it signals an end to the "el norte" partnership, but not the human connections. This timely novel, torn right from the newspaper headlines, conveys a positive message of cooperation and understanding.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT

Kirkus Reviews
Tyler is the son of generations of Vermont dairy farmers. Mari is the Mexican-born daughter of undocumented migrant laborers whose mother has vanished in a perilous border crossing. When Tyler's father is disabled in an accident, the only way the family can afford to keep the farm is by hiring Mari's family. As Tyler and Mari's friendship grows, the normal tensions of middle-school boy-girl friendships are complicated by philosophical and political truths. Tyler wonders how he can be a patriot while his family breaks the law. Mari worries about her vanished mother and lives in fear that she will be separated from her American-born sisters if la migra comes. Unashamedly didactic, Alvarez's novel effectively complicates simple equivalencies between what's illegal and what's wrong. Mari's experience is harrowing, with implied atrocities and immigration raids, but equally full of good people doing the best they can. The two children find hope despite the unhappily realistic conclusions to their troubles, in a story which sees the best in humanity alongside grim realities. Though it lacks nuance, still a must-read. (Fiction. 9-11)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Julia Alvarez is the award-winning author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. Her highly acclaimed books for young readers include The Secret Footprints, A Gift of Gracias, the Tía Lola series, Finding Miracles, and Return to Sender. Alvarez has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and Américas awards for her children’s books, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. In 2013, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. She is currently a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College and, together with her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, a sustainable coffee farm/literacy center in the Dominican Republic. Visit her on the Web at juliaalvarez.com.

Brief Biography

Middlebury, Vermont
Date of Birth:
March 27, 1950
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

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Return to Sender 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Julia Alvarez's new book, RETURN TO SENDER, explores the issue of illegal immigration. Two twelve-year-olds share their connected stories involving this politically sensitive subject.

Tyler's family runs a dairy farm. Up until the sudden death of his grandfather and then his father's farming accident, things had been going well. Now that his older brother is leaving for college, there isn't enough help around to do all that needs doing on the farm.

Tyler returns from a visit to his aunt and uncle's to learn that some new folks have moved into the trailer next door. The new people include a Mexican man, his two brothers, and his three daughters. There seems to be some secret about their presence on the farm that Tyler doesn't understand. They have started helping with the milking and other chores and seem to be a big help for his father; however, his mother seems hesitant to reveal too much information about the family.

From comments around town and the little bit Tyler overhears from his parents' discussions, he finally realizes that they might actually be breaking the law. The new workers are in the U.S. illegally. According to the information Tyler has gathered, not only could these new workers be arrested, but his parents could also be found guilty because they've hired the undocumented workers. Even though they seem to be saving the farm, they could bring more trouble than they are worth.

When school begins in September, Tyler learns that Mari, the oldest daughter, will be in his class. They begin talking and Tyler discovers that Mari is shy but friendly. As their friendship grows, he finds himself not thinking about her questionable status in his country; that is, until she becomes the victim of several cruel bullies in his class. In his attempt to defend Mari, he and his family also become a target. Tyler experiences some difficult times as he struggles to understand loyalty to friends, family, and country.

Mari's voice is heard through letters and diary entries as she recounts her view of living in the United States. Love for her own country and her appreciation for what the U.S. has to offer are both clear as she reacts to the situations around her.

RETURN TO SENDER presents a sympathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants. It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners. Though the issue is much more complicated, perhaps this book's message could give today's politicians something to think about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Soooo good!!!! Once i started reading it i just couldnt stop reading!! This book teaches you that just because someones looks different on the outside, doesnt mean that they are different on the inside. You can be friends with anyone!
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
*Gives insight into Operation Return to Sender instituted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a.k.a. ICE or La migra to some) in 2006. *Emotional. *Heart-wrenching. *A real eye-opener. *Offers an education about what may happen to workers without legal papers. *Learn the meaning of "La Golondrina," esperanza, and what a "coyote" is, and not the animal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RETURN TO SENDER presents a symphathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants.It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners.Though the issue is much more complicated,perhaps this book`s message could give todays politicians something to think about.
Mary Provost More than 1 year ago
Good reading..a little complicated with it being mostly in "dear diary" form...felt badly for the situation, which apparently is based on factual information.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiss your hand three times podt this in three books and look under your pillow
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for school and was not a ver big fan at the beginning. It got a little better towards the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NaomiCamacho More than 1 year ago
I think this book dealt with a lot of issues we see going on today. Reading through the eyes of children as narrators helped to simplify the problem. If we all looked at this issue with pure hearts like these narrators, it wouldn’t be so complicated. As she talks of all the problems she has, from her mother’s absence to her homesickness and loneliness, I felt for her. Nobody should have to deal with these issues, let alone a young girl. Seeing the friendliness of Tyler and all of his family toward Mari’s family showed me that everyone out there can show compassion toward the unfortunate. After all, we’re all people on this earth. We’re all trying to make a living. We all have a voice.
alexusM More than 1 year ago
My favorite read this book hits along the lines of illegal immigration and is a bit confusing as you try to connect the characters, but overall is a great read. Once you start reading it's extremely hard to stop. I would suggest this book for middle school students.
ACRain More than 1 year ago
Many children’s books due take on a fairytale quality where they keep children nestled in a cocoon of safety well hidden away from the troubles and problems of the world. Return to Sender is a book that will open up the eyes of young readers to some of the issues and problems of illegal immigration. The book uses a mix of two cultures to tell the story of friendship and hard circumstances that befall two families from very different worlds. This chapter book also gives and insight to some of the Hispanic culture through the uses of their holidays. While a good way to introduce children to diversity of culture parents might be cautioned of how the controversial issue of illegal immigration is presented in this book. Though the books first few chapters starts out slow and there are sections that don’t seem to fit in the book it turns out to be a bit worth the wait in the end.
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AnniDominguez More than 1 year ago
Return to Sender has got to be one of my favorite books. It shows the courage of a young mexican girl and what she would do to help her family in a tragic time of need. It is definitely a book that I would recommend for any Junior High Student. Julia Alvarez did a wonderful job in explaining the world of an immigrant from Mexico and the traditions of a mexican family. It shows the perfect example of diversity and how two completely different families can come together in a time of need and love each other despite their differences. This book is amazing and heart warming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BrittanyNeff More than 1 year ago
Return to Sender was a great read! Whether you have a political or an emotional connection with the topic of illegal immigration you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Alvarez captures her characters emotional struggles effortlessly. This book will have you both laughing and crying. Julia Alvarez found a great balance between the hot topic of illegal immigration in America and the hardships to do whatever it takes for your family. I found it easy to get drawn into Return the Sender and eager to find out what will happen next.
noahsmom7 More than 1 year ago
Alvarez really does a great job at describing the very real issue about illegal immigration through a fictional story about a family of 3 daughters, a mother, father and some uncles who come to America in hopes of a better future. they are taken in by a wonderful American family in the process of learning about each other, they all become a family. They are helping each other out in different ways and they grow together in many ways, the story takes some twists and turns that are unexpected, so the book never gets boring. I could not put it down and some of the descriptions of the challenges this family goes through in being illegal in America are descriptive and a little graphic, so I would not share this book with an elementary class, I think it is better suited for an early juvenile teen. It is a great and interesting way to introduce the real issue of illegal immigration here in America. Very good read and even a little bit of a tear jerker.
pinkystar06 More than 1 year ago
Such a sweet story I loved the friendship that forms between Mari and Tyler. In today's world with so many issues it was nice to see that these two could still be friends despite of everything.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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