Book Review: Return to Sender

Julia Alvarez is one of my favorite Latina writers. When I heard that she had a new book out, I immediately found a way to get it. I had read that her latest book, Return to Sender, was about immigration and took place in the Northeast. I thought it'd be perfect for my junior English class, where we read and talk about immigration issues and migrant labor extensively.

I knew all sorts about this book except that it was written as a middle grade or upper elementary read. This fact became evident within the first few pages. The main characters are all preteen and the issues presented in the book are done so very carefully, so as not to alarm or scare any middle school-aged children.

This will probably not work for my juniors, because it is so innocent and not at all gritty or mature in the writing style. It's hard to picture us talking about A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, where Beah becomes an AK-47 wielding boy soldier in Africa and then transitioning to the voice of an innocent eleven year-old boy on a Vermont farm.

Don't get me wrong--There are serious issues presented in this book. There is an immigration raid, an imprisoned uncle, and an mother who has gone missing for several months. The way that these topics and situations are addressed in this book is what makes it a middle grade read. I can see this book being used as a whole-class read. I bet that it would promote great discussion and interest in sixth grade students. Juniors, not so much.