Esperanza, accustomed to a comfortable life, has to come to terms with poverty when her father is killed, leaving their land to his self-serving brothers. To avoid having to marry one of the brothers, Esperanza’s mother travels with her house servants to California where they all hope to start a new life. The work is hard, although their fellow workers form a supportive community. Esperanza learns to accept the change of circumstances gracefully, especially once her mother succumbs to Valley Fever and must spend many months in the hospital.

This is a down-to-earth story about a girl who must grow up quickly when her father is killed, her beautiful house is burnt down, and she and her mother escape the attentions of her greedy uncle to start a new life as farm workers in California. Their situation is ugly, and might be desperate, but for the kindness of the family who were formerly their servants. Helped by them, Esperanza learns how to work with and for the others and how to find joy and hope in the simplest of things. The story is heartwarming, but by no means sententious. The style of the book is simple, seen as it is through the eyes of a sheltered 13-year-old Mexican. The narrative tells of life from the farm-worker’s perspective, where every season is defined by the crop it brings and the particular difficulties it involves. Without letting the reader get lost in a welter of local and historical facts, the story paints the picture of life for the rich and poor in Mexico, and of the vast numbers of people trying to find a new life in America around the time of the Depression. In a certain respect, this story is about human dignity, the dignity of those who are already poor, and that of those who become poor by misfortune. It is a riches-to-rags story, but a Mexican proverb on the frontispiece says, “The rich person is richer when he becomes poor, than the poor person when he becomes rich.”

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London.  He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.