Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite

First Lines: I am standing just inside/the doorway, watching Mami talk/to the television screen./As the latest episode/of her favorite telenovela unfolds,/the soap opera drawing her in,/the skins from potatoes/she is peeling/drop into her apron/like old maple leaves.

This book was on my to-read list on Goodreads for an embarrassingly long time. I just never got around to it, you know? And when you’ve been on Goodreads for 13 years, those kind of books definitely crop up. I don’t read a lot in verse, but this looked like an interesting one.

Lupita is a budding actor and poet, trying to figure out life in a Mexican-American family. When she starts high school and learns that her mother has cancer, Lupita doesn’t care as much about her acting roles or her not-always-understanding friends so much as she does about saving her mother, the anchor of their family. While her father takes Mami away for treatment, Lupita is left caring for her seven siblings. In order to escape it sometimes, she sits beneath the mesquite tree in their yard and begins to rediscover the healing power of words.

I just wasn’t wowed by this. I wanted to be, though.

I think a large part of that comes down to the verse storytelling itself. The story is conveyed fine, but I’m used to verse being more poetic. A lot of this story was straightforward storytelling that happened to look like poetry. I like the more flowy figurative language I normally see and I just didn’t get that with this. And because it’s written in verse, it tends to be more abrupt and less descriptive than a typical story.

The story covers about 4-5 years, pretty much Lupita’s entire time in high school. I liked that the story covered so much time because I felt like we really got to see Lupita and her family grow and change. (My understanding is this book is based heavily on the author’s life. And it shows.) Lupita is the eldest in her family and she’s got a lot of weight on her shoulders that felt realistic and heartbreaking as the story continued. She was a great character.

I just maybe didn’t read this at the right time for me. It was a sadder story than I was looking for. But I did really like seeing Lupita’s Mexican heritage mix with her life in America. I thought that was well done, showing that Lupita remembers her roots while dreaming of more.

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