Return to Sender is a story about a family of undocumented Mexican migrant workers and the American family who employs them to work on their dairy farm in Vermont. The story is told by two sixth graders, Mari Cruz, the oldest of three sisters whose father and uncles work on the dairy farm, and Tyler Paquette, who lives on the farm with his parents and grandmother. Mari tells her story through a series of lyrical and heartfelt letters and journal entries, while Tyler relates his experience directly. Ms. Alvarez peppers the story with Spanish words easily understood through context.
Both Mari and Tyler are grieving the recent deaths of a grandparent. Tyler misses his grandfather deeply and has been depressed about it. Mari grieves the loss of her grandmother, but she is more worried about her mother who has been missing for almost a year. Her family fears she did not survive the dangerous trip across the border from Mexico to the US.
It is against the law to hire immigrants who have come into the US illegally and do not have the proper documents to work. Tyler’s family hires the undocumented Mexican workers after Tyler’s father is unable to work due to a farming accident. Without enough workers, they will have to sell the farm. Tyler knows that his family is breaking the law, and at first he doesn’t want them on his farm. With time he reasons that the Mexicans need the work and his family needs the workers. He has made friends with Mari and her family and knows that they are good people. Tyler comes to believe that the law, which prevents Mari’s family from working, is unfair.
The following year brings challenges and changes for to both families. Although Mari reunites with their mother, the family is deported back to Mexico. With nobody to help them run the farm, Tyler’s family has to sell it. Mari and Tyler continue their friendship through letters and visits.
The title, Return to Sender, was the name of a 2006 dragnet called Operation Return to Sender which raided many workplaces around the US, deporting undocumented workers. Although it is a fictional story, many undocumented workers in the US experience the struggles of Mari and her family. This beautiful book introduces children to both sides of the immigration debate. It gives a face to the thousands of families who take great risks to come to the US for the chance at a better life.
Julia Alvarez was born in New York City and lived as a child in the Dominican Republic and New York. She is an accomplished writer of adult fiction, essays, poetry and books for young readers. She is best known for her novels, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In The Time of The Butterflies. She lives on a farm in Vermont.