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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1008

Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

First published: 2011

Type of work: Novel in verse

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present day

Locales: Eagle Pass, Texas; Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico

Principal characters

Lupita, the teenage narrator

Mami, her mother

Mr. Cortés, her drama teacher

The Story

Guadalupe...

(The entire section contains 1008 words.)

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Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

First published: 2011

Type of work: Novel in verse

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present day

Locales: Eagle Pass, Texas; Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico

Principal characters

Lupita, the teenage narrator

Mami, her mother

Mr. Cortés, her drama teacher

The Story

Guadalupe Garcia McCall's semiautobiographical debut novel in verse, Under the Mesquite (2011), takes place in a Texas border town called Eagle Pass (where McCall was raised) and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. The book's protagonist and narrator, Lupita, who has seven younger siblings, moved to Texas with her family when she was six years old. Under the Mesquite is divided into six sections. In the first, Lupita is a freshman in high school. She describes her mother, Mami, who planted rosebushes in the family's yard and meticulously cares for them, like she nurtures her children. Lupita reveals that Mami has a secret; at night, she can hear her crying in the other room. She eavesdrops on her mother and her mother's friends and discovers the truth: Mami has cancer. Determined to save her mother by divine intervention, she resolves to become a nun. However, when the sisters come to her house for her parents' blessing, her mother sends them away. Though she is furious, her mother encourages her to plan to attend college and study writing instead. In the second section, Lupita reflects on some of her young life in Mexico, and how her father taught her how to read. She remembers learning English. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books, Inc.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

Courtesy of Roger Campos

The third section begins in the summer after Lupita's freshman year. Mami has an operation to remove her cancer and it is a success. Lupita spends the summer caring for her mother as she recovers. After sophomore year begins, she becomes interested in acting. Her drama teacher, Mr. Cortés, advises her to practice speaking with lollipops in her mouth to lose her Mexican accent. While she inevitably turns fifteen, she resists her new womanhood; she would rather stay a child. At school, her Mexican friends make fun of her for her new American accent. She begins writing poems about the ups and downs of her life and wins a major trophy in an acting competition. Her mother is proud.

The fourth section of the book begins in Lupita's junior year, when Mami's cancer returns. Her treatments continue to drain the family's finances. Still, Lupita's father resolves to take her to a treatment center in Galveston, more than six hours away, leaving Lupita and all of her younger siblings to fend for themselves in Eagle Pass over the summer. Lupita quickly learns how difficult it is to be a mother and recalls with envy how easily her mother managed her brood. The school year begins and the children, penniless, rely on free school meals to sustain them. In one scene, one of her brothers catches fish from the river and roasts them over an open fire in the backyard. Sometimes neighbors or family members bring food.

In part five, Mami comes home, but she is frail and dying. Lupita tells Mr. Cortés about her exhaustion, caring for her mother, and her father's refusal to take Mami to a hospital. Mami finally goes to the hospital; soon after that, she dies. In part six, Lupita graduates from high school. She spends several weeks living with her grandmother in Mexico and resolves, during this time, to pursue college and a writing career. She eventually tricks her father into letting her leave Eagle Pass. In the book's last scene, she arrives on a college campus in Alpine, Texas, with her mother's old suitcase.

Critical Evaluation

Under the Mesquite is McCall's debut novel and it was published in 2011. As of 2018, she had also published two prose novels for young adults, the fantasy Summer of the Mariposas (2012) and the historical fiction work Shame the Stars (2016). Under the Mesquite, which draws on events from McCall's own adolescence, was generally well received; it won a Pura Belpré Award and was a finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) William C. Morris YA Debut Award. In addition to being composed in accessible verse rather than prose, the book also includes a helpful and informative glossary of Spanish words as well as cultural references pertinent to the story to offer the reader convenient access to terms that can provide greater context and authentic meaning for the reading of the story.

A reviewer for Kirkus gave Under the Mesquite a starred review, describing it as a "promising, deeply felt debut." Karyn Silverman, writing for a School Library Journal blog, was more critical, particularly of McCall's decision to write the book in verse. While "the writing itself" has "moments of grace and beauty," Silverman wrote, McCall's free-verse poems "skate across the surface of heavy topics without digging into the meat." Particularly difficult or traumatizing events in Lupita's young life—like being left alone to care for her seven siblings—are offered without any real analysis, Silverman argued. Even though the story is told in the first-person perspective, Lupita, meanwhile, comes across as more of a "vehicle for telling a story rather than a fully fleshed character" she further noted. The book's title comes from an anecdote in the book. A gnarled mesquite tree has grown up right in the middle of Mami's beautiful rose garden. The family tries to get rid of it, but it just keeps growing back. Eventually, the tree becomes a sanctuary for Lupita—she writes poems sitting with her back against its trunk—but more importantly, the sturdy mesquite becomes effectively symbolic of Lupita herself: a tenacious survivor.

Further Reading

  • Silverman, Karyn. Review of Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Someday My Printz Will Come, School Library Journal, 7 Jan. 2012, blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2012/01/07/under-the-mesquite/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.
  • Review of Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. KirkusReviews, 15 Aug. 2011, p. 1482. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=65258834&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.
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