Esperanza Rising is a Historical Fiction novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan, published in 2000.
Esperanza Ortega, the only child of a wealthy landowner, lives a charmed life on her family's ranch in Mexico. But when Esperanza's father is murdered and their ranch burns down, Esperanza and her mother Ramona flee with their servants and family friends to a migrant worker camp in California, right in the middle of The Great Depression. Missing her grandmother and her previous privileged life, unused to a life of hard work, and facing injustice after injustice, Esperanza struggles to rise above her current situation.
Tropes in this work:
- Character Development: Esperanza goes from a rich girl scorning the "peasants" who work alongside her to a hardworking young girl who sympathizes with them.
- Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Marta has spent most of the book being a jerk to Esperanza by recognizing that she used to be a rich girl. When the mass deportations start, Marta is forced to hide in Esperanza's camp. Esperanza finds her, and gives her some clothes so that she can hide her face and sneak out before she's arrested.
- Didn't Think This Through: While the strike was necessary and there were good intentions behind it, it's obvious that the American-born workers didn't consider that their employers could change the rules to deport them to Mexico and literally tear up their citizenship papers. The same racism that would allow them to hire Oklahomans for less would also lead to mass arrests and deportations. While Marta is mad at Esperanza for not striking with them, Esperanza angrily points out that she can't afford to lose the job with her mother sick and her grandmother still in Mexico. She's the only healthy person who can work in the fields, and that means sacrificing their dignity.
- Evil Uncle: Esperanza's uncle Tío Luis burns down the ranch after Esperanza's mother refuses to marry him. Even after they flee, he continues to spy on Abuelita, and the thought of something bad happening to her worries Esperanza for much of the book.
- Flower Motifs: Roses are representative of Esperanza's father Sixto and their family ranch, El Rancho de la Rosas. After the ranch burns down and they flee to America, Miguel and Alfonso save some of the roots and plant them behind the new house as a way to keep his memory alive.
- The Great Depression: The setting. Esperanza and her family arrive in America in the 1930s and settle into a life of poverty. Oklahoma workers arriving in California fleeing the dust bowl figure heavily into the plot.
- Heir Club for Men: Esperanza's uncle Tío Luis gets the property after her father is murdered because it was not customary at the time to leave property to women.
- Hope Springs Eternal: The theme of the book. Despite her difficult situation, Esperanza manages to find hope as her family and friends are reunited.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every chapter is titled after the Spanish word for either a fruit or a vegetable that figures into the plot. The titular protagonist grows up in a vineyard and spends the bulk of the novel working as a farm laborer in a migrant camp, so her life revolves around planting and harvesting crops. The first chapter takes place during the grape harvest at the family vineyard, so it's titled "Las Uvas" ("Grapes"); a later chapter has the family escaping to the United States while hiding under piles of guavas in a wooden cart, so it's titled "Las Guayavas" ("Guavas"); chapters where she takes jobs peeling potatoes and packing asparagus are titled "Las Papas" ("Potatoes") and "Los Espárragos" ("Asparagus"), respectively; a chapter where she uses an avocado salve to heal her injured hands is titled "Los Aguacates" ("Avocados"); etc.
- Jerkass Realization: Marta gets a tiny one. She spends a huge portion of the book mocking Esperanza for never having worked a day in her life. Then Esperanza selflessly shares food with a fellow worker who is begging for anything. Marta asks why she did that, and Esperanza says that she knows they all have to help each other.
- Meaningful Name: "Esperanza" literally means "hope", which fits with the Hope Springs Eternal theme of the book.
- An Offer You Cant Reduce: Uncle Luis pressures Esperanza's mother Ramona into marrying him, complete with burning down the ranch when her mother refuses him initially. Though there's no proof, Esperanza can quickly figure out he was guilty. He implicitly threatens Abuelita as well. Esperanza questions why they don't stay and fight him, but her mother says that the law doesn't favor a widow and her children; if they pretend to agree and then run away into the night, they can at least have their freedom. Esperanza thinks about it and realizes Ramona is right.
- Riches to Rags: Esperanza starts out living a luxurious life on her family's ranch. Then she loses everything and is forced to live and work on a farm camp for migrant workers, which she has difficulty adjusting to at first, though she agrees to do so for her mother's sake.
- Spoiled Sweet: Esperanza is basically treated like a princess on the ranch before her father dies. She gets a lovely party and as many presents as she wants. Yet apart from being Innocently Insensitive and looking down on peasants, Esperanza is a Nice Girl. While she initially protests fleeing to the United States and becoming a refugee, Esperanza listens when Ramona explains the other option is being under Luis's thumb forever and resolves to face any hardship for her mother's sake, with the hope that eventually Abuelita can reunite with them. She has a hard time learning basic chores and resents Marta mocking her for not knowing how to hold a broom, but strives to persist.