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Product Description

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

About 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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Tyler looks out the window of his bedroom and can’t believe what he is seeing.
He rubs his eyes. Still there! Some strange people are coming out of the trailer where the hired help usually stays. They have brown skin and black hair, and although they don’t wear feathers or carry tomahawks, they sure look like the American Indians in his history textbook last year in fifth grade.
Tyler rushes out of his room and down the stairs. In the den his father is doing his physical therapy exercises with Mom’s help. The TV is turned on; Oprah is interviewing a lady who has come back from having died and is describ-ing how nice it is on the other side. “Dad,” Tyler gasps. “Mom!”
“What is it? What is it?” Mom’s hand is at her heart, as if it might tear out of her chest and fly away.
“There’s some Indians trespassing! They just came out of the trailer!”
Dad is scrambling up from the chair, where he has been lifting a weight Mom has strapped to his right leg. He lets himself fall back down and turns the TV to mute with the remote control. “ ’Sokay, boy, quiet down,” he says. “You want to kill your mom with a heart attack?”
Before this summer, this might have been a joke to smile at. But not anymore. Mid-June, just as school was letting out, Gramps died of a heart attack while working in his garden. Then, a few weeks later, Dad almost died in a farm accident. Two men down and Tyler’s older brother, Ben, leaving for college this fall. “You do the math,” his mom says whenever the topic comes up of how they can continue farming. Tyler has started thinking that maybe their farm is jinxed. How many bad things need to happen before a farm can be certified as a bad-luck farm?
“But shouldn’t we call the police? They’re trespassing!” Tyler knows his dad keeps his land posted, which means put-ting up signs telling people not to come on his property without permission. It’s mostly to keep out hunters, who might mistakenly shoot a cow or, even worse, a person.
“They’re not exactly trespassing,” his mom explains, and then she glances over at Dad, a look that means, You explain it, honey. 
“Son,” his dad begins, “while you were away . . .”
In the middle of the summer, Tyler was sent away for a visit to his uncle and aunt in Boston. His mom was worried about him.
“He’s just not himself,” Tyler overheard Mom tell her sister, Roxanne, on the phone. “Very mopey. He keeps having nightmares. . . .” Tyler groaned. Nothing like having his feelings plastered out there for everyone to look at. 
Of course Tyler was having nightmares! So many bad things had happened before the summer had even gotten started. 
First, Gramps dying would have been bad enough. Then, Dad’s horrible accident. Tyler actually saw it happen. Afterward, he couldn’t stop playing the moment over and over in his head: the tractor climbing the hill, then doing this kind of weird backflip and pinning Dad underneath. Tyler would wake up screaming for help. 
That day, Tyler rushed into the house and dialed 911. Otherwise, the paramedics said, his father would have died. Or maybe Dad would have been brought back to life to be on Oprah talking about the soft music and the bright lights. 
It was amazing that Dad was still alive, even if it looked like his right arm would be forever useless and he’d always walk with a limp. His face was often in a grimace from the pain he felt.
But the very worst part was after Dad got home and Tyler’s parents seriously began to discuss selling the farm. Mostly, it was his mom. His dad hung his head like he knew she was right but he just couldn’t bear to do the math one more time himself. “Okay, okay,” he finally said, giving up.
That was when Tyler lost it. “You can’t sell it! You just can’t!”
He had grown up on this farm, as had his dad before him, and Gramps and his father and grandfather before that. If they left their home behind, it’d be like the Trail of Tears Tyler learned about in history class last year. How the Cherokee Indians had been forced from their land to become migrants and march a thousand miles to the frontier. So many of them had died.
“Tiger, honey, remember our talk,” Mom reminded him pleasantly enough in front of Dad. Tiger is what his mom calls him when she is buttering him up. Before his father came home from the hospital, his right leg and arm still in a cast, Mom sat Tyler and his older brother and sister down for a talk. She explained that they must all do their part to help Dad in his recovery. No added worries (looking over at Ben, eighteen going on I’m-old-enough-to-do-what-I-want). No scenes (looking over at Sara, fifteen with a boyfriend, Jake, and “Saturday night fever” seven nights a week, as his dad often joked, back when he used to joke). No commotion (looking over at Tyler, who as the youngest sometimes had to make a commotion just to be heard). They must all keep Dad’s spirits up this summer.
But Tyler knew for a fact that selling the farm would kill his dad. It would kill Tyler!

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4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
312 global ratings

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Top reviews from the United States

OpheliasOwn
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Important Story, but Heavy-Handed at Times
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2013
With all the controversy in this country about borders, immigration, illegal aliens, and in particular Mexican immigrants, this book couldn''t have come at a better time. Our students are sitting in classrooms with students who are learning English as a second language while... See more
With all the controversy in this country about borders, immigration, illegal aliens, and in particular Mexican immigrants, this book couldn''t have come at a better time. Our students are sitting in classrooms with students who are learning English as a second language while simultaneously trying to learn the same content as their peers. Our neighbors are using labor from illegal aliens to keep their farms and businesses afloat. And our government is currently in a federal vs. state war regarding the rights of non-citizens. I would say the YA genre is well overdue for a book to examine both sides of this controversy.

The story begins with a young boy named Tyler who has grown up on the farm that has been run by his family for generations. His older brother and sister are uninterested in the back-breaking work it takes to keep the farm going, but Tyler dreams of running the farm one day, even though he is only eleven. When his grandfather dies suddenly and his father is badly injured in a farm accident, the family resorts to the last hope to keep their farm going: Mexican labor. They hire three men to help with the farm work and live on the farm, but they are surprised to find the men arrive with three young girls. Maria, Luby, and Ofie are with their father, but no one knows where their mother is. She left to return to Mexico almost a year ago to see her dying mother, but after calling Maria''s father to let them know she was returning, she disappeared and they haven''t heard from her since.

Tyler is having a difficult time with the new residents of the farm. He believes in his country and the constitution and hiring illegal immigrants is breaking the law. Therefore, he is very upset by the turn of events on the farm, and he is torn because he knows this is the only way to save the farm. When the girls are enrolled in his school and Maria is in his class, he gets to know them as more than just illegal immigrants, and gets to know the crueler side of his peers. While Ofie and Luby are US citizens and born in the states, Maria was born in Mexico, and the kids at school don''t let her forget it. Slowly, though, the two families grow to care for one another deeply. The girls think of Tyler''s grandmother as their own grandmother, Tyler''s family invites Maria''s family over for dinners and holidays, and all are devastated when Maria''s uncle Felipe is picked up by immigration. Now the family must find a way to avoid immigration, run the farm with less men, and find out the truth of where Maria''s mother is.

This is a bitter sweet story that shows both sides of a controversial situation. Chapters alternate between Tyler''s story told in prose and Maria''s story in the form of letters to her mother, the President of the US, and Guadalupe. It makes the reader understand that immigration is more than just a numbers and borders game- real people are the focus and their lives are in the balance. Not to mention, these people are hard workers who just want to support their families, and they have become a strong support system for businesses that couldn''t continue without their help.

I found the message to be well thought out, but the writing was just plain awkward. I would have been fine if only Maria''s story was choppier, but Tyler''s was too. And the beginning where Tyler is concerned with the legality and moral aspects of the new farm workers, it is simply overdone. It sounded like a robot: "Illegal immigrants are illegal, the constitution is the bestest thing in the world, we follow the constitution in the bestest country in the world, therefore we don''t break the law, and illegal immigrants are breaking the law, so they are all bad. Very bad." It was simply silly. It made it hard for me to take the book seriously for a while. Tyler''s opinions clearly changed as the story continued, but it was almost as if Maria''s family were real aliens from outer space and no one knew about them until now. This part I find hard to believe. It is set in 2005, and I find it hard to believe a family in VT would have no contact with a Mexican family until then. This part of the book was much less realistic and much more contrived.

The book is still an interesting one, and might be best as a school assignment with teacher guidance, or one read with a parent. I don''t see many kids picking this story up and sticking with it long enough to get to the important messages. The writing is hard to peg because it is so awkward, but not necessarily written at a lower reading level. The topic is a great one for kids and adults at all ages. It is also an interesting choice for a student learning Spanish, because Spanish words, phrases, and sentences are scattered throughout. Basically, I would read the story first before giving it to a student, and if you are going to use it in your classroom or read with your child, be aware of the flaws in order to reap the benefits of such a story.
15 people found this helpful
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5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Absolutely beautiful
Reviewed in the United States on January 13, 2019
I read this story as part of a graduate class, and I absolutely loved it. The two different perspectives of the kids in this book give two sides to a complicated issue that even adults can''t solve. Now that I am a reading teacher, I make sure to tell students about this... See more
I read this story as part of a graduate class, and I absolutely loved it. The two different perspectives of the kids in this book give two sides to a complicated issue that even adults can''t solve. Now that I am a reading teacher, I make sure to tell students about this book, because it shows life from different perspectives, and lets students know that there are two sides to every issue. Such a beautiful story of empathy and understanding.
2 people found this helpful
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Z Hayes
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Credible portrayal of people coping with the harsh realities of life
Reviewed in the United States on October 13, 2010
"Return to Sender" may focus on the plight of migrant workers, but it is also more than that. Tyler Paquette is grieving the loss of his beloved grandfather, and to top it off, his father is recovering from a horrific accident, one which has left him incapable of running... See more
"Return to Sender" may focus on the plight of migrant workers, but it is also more than that. Tyler Paquette is grieving the loss of his beloved grandfather, and to top it off, his father is recovering from a horrific accident, one which has left him incapable of running the family farm on his own. Tyler fears losing his family farm and the way of life that is so important to him. Then he discovers that his parents have hired new migrant workers from Mexico (by way of North Carolina), and he wonders why his parents are being so secretive, telling him not to tell his friends and classmates about the new workers. Later, Tyler finds out that these workers are undocumented, and feels conflicted - why would his parents risk so much to hire these people? What if they get into trouble for harboring illegal immigrants? Yet Tyler realizes this may be the only option available to his parents in order to keep the farm going, and the migrant workers appear to be decent, hardworking folk.

Tyler also finds that the eldest daughter of the migrant family, i.e. Mari, is about his age and shares a common interest in astronomy. Over time, Tyler comes to care about Mari, her two younger sisters and the others, and does not wish to see them deported. However, others in the community are not so benevolent and are bent on seeing these migrants sent back to Mexico. Mari, meanwhile, struggles with her own conflicts - her mother has been missing for a while, and as the days pass by, the family''s hopes of seeing Mama grow dim.

There is no real happy ending in this story, so it does credibly address some of the real issues having to do with the uncertain life of migrant workers, who literally live from day to day in the hopes that la migra will not arrest them and send them back to a life of poverty, with no means of supporting their families. There is an obvious political message here, but I felt it was well-integrated into the story without a happily ever after ending that would have diluted the story''s message. The reality in today''s United States is that there are many immigrant students in school without legal status, and it is time that other students, both citizens and legal aliens learn to understand how their peers might feel, living in constant fear. It is not a pleasant subject, but I felt the author did a credible job in weaving a compelling human interest story of friendship, immigrants, and life.
7 people found this helpful
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Bookworm Jess
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Savory but unsatisfying
Reviewed in the United States on October 3, 2012
Could you imagine returning home from school every day worried that your parents had been seized by "la migra"? In the young adult novel Return to Sender, Julia Alvarez does an excellent job of placing the illegal immigration debate into context by using the... See more
Could you imagine returning home from school every day worried that your parents had been seized by "la migra"?

In the young adult novel Return to Sender, Julia Alvarez does an excellent job of placing the illegal immigration debate into context by using the point of view of children who are affected by it. Overall I rate this book positively because I appreciate the message, and I grew as a person by getting to "walk two moons" in an illegal immigrant''s shoes. However as an avid adult reader this book missed the mark for me, the pace was slow and the characters failed to spring off the page. I think the book would fare better with young adult readers. Alvarez uses letters from Mari to tell her story, but I just didn''t believe that the letters were written by an eleven year old; and as the letters make up the majority of the book, it was a struggle to stay engaged. Although there were places the author really grabbed my heartstrings:

"''El papel lo aguanta todo.'' Paper can hold anything. Sorrows that might otherwise break your heart. Joys with wings that lift you above the sad things in your life."

An immigrant from the Dominican Republic herself, Julia Alvarez wrote Return to Sender to demonstrate that "at the heart of any political issue there is a person who is not very different from us". The topic of the book is immigration, but the main theme is friendship; as Alvarez also manages to address patriotism, the transition from child to young adulthood, death, and responsibility. Spanish words and phrases embellish the text and readers are treated to Mexican traditions as Mari strives to preserve her native culture in a land where she is labeled an "alien".

An ideal book for middle school teachers to use in the curriculum; Return to Sender is a multicultural contemporary realistic fiction novel that has earned the Pura Belpre Award; Americas Award for Children''s and Young Adult Literature; and the NCSS-CBC Notable Children''s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for its cultural authenticity.
2 people found this helpful
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Valerie Sun
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Friendship has no cultural boundaries
Reviewed in the United States on June 14, 2017
Beautiful realistic fiction to discuss the delicate need of Mexican labor in our society while addressing the illegal immigrant situation in a positive, humane aspect. This book can help create a lot of dialogue on multiple issues surrounding immigration, the importance of... See more
Beautiful realistic fiction to discuss the delicate need of Mexican labor in our society while addressing the illegal immigrant situation in a positive, humane aspect. This book can help create a lot of dialogue on multiple issues surrounding immigration, the importance of family, having faith, life changes, friendship, among many other themes. It''s wonderfully written and easy to read.
2 people found this helpful
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great fiction to explain undocumented immigrants
Reviewed in the United States on August 30, 2020
I found this book to be thoughtful and explore a sensitive topic in a really compassionate way. My son is 11, and we are reading it together, and I will have my 14yo daughter read it as well. Highly recommend!
One person found this helpful
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Look into the Heavens
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2009
Julia Alvarez knows how to characterize the blur in the line between right and wrong. She knows how to make it clear that reality and morality are continuums and not dichotomies of this or that, up or down, or yes or no. There are no absolutes. (Now, there''s an oxymoron.)... See more
Julia Alvarez knows how to characterize the blur in the line between right and wrong. She knows how to make it clear that reality and morality are continuums and not dichotomies of this or that, up or down, or yes or no. There are no absolutes. (Now, there''s an oxymoron.) We have a long way to go.

Alvarez begins with a young man, her protagonist, Tyler, the younger eleven-year-old son in a family who has survived and thrived by running a dairy farm in Vermont. The family''s farming heritage is at risk. Tyler''s older brother is away at college, mostly unavailable to help out on the farm without jeopardizing his education and eventual career, and Tyler''s father has been injured and disabled, perhaps permanently, in a farming accident. Tyler''s father can''t do the work he normally did. It is unclear when and if he ever will be able to do the work again. Extended family also can''t adequately help out. So paying the bills and keeping the farm is at risk. The family needs help or to change their dynamics: selling the farm, moving from their land, doing something entirely different than farming.

Tyler''s parents eventually hire undocumented immigrants --- a couple of men --- to assist with the dairy work. One of the immigrant men is married and has three daughters. The oldest, Mari, slowly becomes Tyler''s friend and ally, an unfolding as miraculous as springtime. Mari''s mother has disappeared in the murky criminal element that arose to fulfill the void created by ambiguities in United States immigrant policies, underfunded policies that for years tacitly approved of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States to work in jobs that citizens in better times didn''t want to do.

The analysis of various notions is tenderly at play in Alvarez''s book:
What is a family?
What does it mean to be honest?
What good is it to have a law without compassion, or without implementing it and adequately funding its substantial enforcement?
What does it mean to be a good neighbor and a friend?
What sacrifices are appropriate and necessary of good neighbors and friends? And does all of that that apply only to individuals and not to communities and to nations?
What is charity? Is it a weakness or strength?
What about religion and the mystical, and gazing into the heavens? Hope?

"... life is about change, change, and more change. ''When you''re born as a child, you die as a baby. Just like when you''re born as a teenager, you die as a child.''... ''But there are good sides even to bad or sad things happening,'' my mom reminds me...."

This is a coming of age adventure where a boy and a girl have more love and compassion than the men and the women do, where a couple of families have greater diplomacy toward each other than the greatest nations on earth do for each other. So it would be good to take their advice and look into the heavens and contemplate the beauty of the night before flying apart.

Not just one star but five.
11 people found this helpful
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Kindergarten teacher ❤️
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
Reviewed in the United States on April 30, 2013
The topic of immigration is a complicated one, and I love how it is told from different points of view focused on the people surrounding this issue, both the farming family wanting to make ends meet and the family from Mexico trying to create a better life for themselves.... See more
The topic of immigration is a complicated one, and I love how it is told from different points of view focused on the people surrounding this issue, both the farming family wanting to make ends meet and the family from Mexico trying to create a better life for themselves. If books do not portray differences, students cannot learn to transcend them. I appreciate to see what it''d be like on both sides of illegal immigration. It was difficult to read some of Mari''s entries. As the oldest, she carries the most fear about her mother''s absence. In addition, her undocumented status was a huge burden for her, more than any eleven-year-old should ever have to bear. The characters and their problems are very real, and Return to Sender is a sympathetic treatment of the human side of illegal immigration.
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Top reviews from other countries

eirlys james
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Three Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 10, 2018
this was given as a gift so unable to comment
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Abirami hariprasad
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Lovely book to read
Reviewed in India on October 4, 2019
The book is truly inspiring and transports you back to times where things were simple and life was more joyful to see
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