Esperanza Rising details the emotional journey of Esperanza Ortega, who transforms from a privileged and wealthy young girl to an emotionally strong young woman who learns to adapt to adversity.
When the story begins, Esperanza lives in Mexico. Her parents are wealthy, and they are able to employ numerous servants, including Hortensia (a housekeeper) and Alfonso (a farm hand). Because the novel is set just after the Mexican Revolution, the historical conflict manifests in the family's lives. Wealthy landowners like Esperanza's family are constantly threatened by bandits. Papa is robbed and killed one day, and Esperanza and her mother learn that they have inherited their house but not their land. Instead, Luis, who "love[s] money and power more than people," inherits the land and then tries to force Mama to marry him by presumably burning down their home. Instead, Mama flees to the United States with Esperanza and some of their former servants.
In the United States, Esperanza must adapt to an entirely different life. As you read, pay attention to the way Marta challenges her to grow stronger and the way Esperanza learns to physically work hard in ways she has never been asked to do before. Her attitude evolves from that of a young girl who believes that she is a victim into that of a young woman who recognizes that she has the power to shape her own destiny. This is especially powerful after her mother is hospitalized following the dust storm, leaving Esperanza to find a way to bring her Abuelita, whom they had to leave behind in Mexico, to join them.
Also pay attention to Esperanza's perception of Miguel. Near the end of the novel, she believes that he has stolen the money she has saved for Abuelita's travel expenses and is fairly shocked to learn that he has actually taken the initiative to bring Abuelita to Esperanza and her mother.
In the end, Esperanza turns fourteen, and she has goals that reflect the transformative influence of the conflicts she has faced over the past year.