Under the Mesquite, written entirely in verse, accompanies Lupita through her family’s immigration from Mexico to the US and her mother’s struggle with cancer. The family starts out well—close-knit, careful with their money and eager to establish themselves in their new home. As a stubborn mesquite tree (a symbol that proves to have multiple meanings) claims a home in her mother, Mami’s, rose garden, though, Lupita’s family itself is invaded and nearly overcome by Mami’s illness. Their savings are drained, Lupita’s father becomes distant, and Lupita herself—in her last year of high school—takes on responsibility for tending her seven younger siblings while her parents spend weeks with a specialist in another city. Ultimately, however, the hardships faced strengthen the family. Lupita closes her story with convincing hope in a new beginning.
Because the family moves only a short way across the border, the story shares Lupita’s experiences in a new country and her family’s frequent visits back home. For most readers, then, the novel offers both the familiar (American culture) from an outsider’s perspective and the unfamiliar (Mexican culture) from an insider’s perspective. Although the novel is written in first person, Lupita makes references to poems that are not included, suggesting that what the reader sees is not Lupita’s poetry, but her thoughts. The language is often breathtaking, demonstrating the author’s gifts not only of expression, but also of profound insight into the experiences that she describes. There is deep truth to be found here.
Watch an interview with the author here.
Note: There was a problem with the original post for this date–this is a replacement to keep the space filled. Our review of The Heart and the Bottle will be reposted next week!