Allison's Book Bag

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Posted on: March 1, 2014

An expression that comes to mind about Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is that “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts”. The main storylines to this verse novel are the immigration of a Mexican family to America and the death of a parent. Thematically, the story is also about family, friendship, and identity. All of these parts interconnect to make an emotional experience that will have long-lasting impact.

The immigration experience forms one storyline to Under the Mesquite. Lupita and her siblings were born in Mexico, but her family moved to the United States when she turned six. However, this verse novel is not about the difficulties which can happen to immigrants in crossing the border or when trying to avoid deportation; Lupita’s family enters the U.S. legally. Nor is this verse novel about the challenge of being a second or third generation Mexican; Lupita spent her formative years in Mexico, and when the family moves to the United States everyone ends up feeling pretty happy “living the American dream in Eagle Pass”.

Instead, Under the Mesquite is about an altogether different struggle: one which I call dual homesickness. Basically, when she’s on the American side Lupita misses her former life in Mexico, but when she’s on the Mexican side she eventually finds herself longing for her new home in Texas. My being from Canada, it’s a conflict with which I well relate.

Because Lupita looks different and has an accent, naturally she also faces discrimination. And yet to my surprise, its Lupita’s Mexican friends who harass her the most, accusing her of talking “like you wanna be white”. Because of these different takes on immigration, I found Under the Mesquite to have a fresh approach.

The death of a parent forms a second storyline to Under the Mesquite. When Lupita enters her freshman year in high school, her mom is diagnosed with cancer. Despite the rallying times when it felt as if her mom would recover and life would return to normal, Lupita and her sisters receive the dreaded middle-of-the-night call.

Under the Mesquite is about the exhaustion and anxiety that accompany a death vigil, and the sorrow that fills a girl’s heart following her mother’s death. Yet it’s also filtered through the unique experiences of McCall, for Under the Mesquite is largely an autobiographical story. Lupita’s earliest role is that of a surrogate mother, the oldest child who steps in and cares for the siblings while the father remains by the side of his hospitalized wife. When the cancer worsens, Lupita wishes to do nothing but retreat. Her drama teacher becomes a confidant at this time and encourages her to funnel her emotions into the stage.

It’s often said that there are no new stories. You could view Under the Mesquite in this way, for death of a parent isn’t a new tale. But how McCall develops the relationship between Lupita and her mom, down to the symbolism of the mesquite tree, is original, and therefore makes for a memorable read.

A story told through verse has a strong chance of turning ones off who are not accustomed to the format. Myself, I first stumbled across Under the Mesquite at the library. It being about a teen who writes poems and loses her mother intrigued me enough to start flipping pages. The instance though when I saw its poetic format, I rejected it. Only when I saw Under the Mesquite listed as an award winner, and still felt entranced with its premise, did I give it a chance.

Now that I have, I love the emotional punch McCall creates with her intense visuals. I also appreciate that the poetic form allows her to provide the perfect emotional distance from one of the most painful experiences anyone can face. Does this mean poetry is better for writing about heart-wrenching topics? I don’t think so, because I’ve equally enjoyed prose stories on the topic. But, it’s not worse either. Just different. Which means Under the Mesquite has further sold me on the merits of verse novels.

2 Responses to "Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall"

After reading your review, I checked to see if my library had this book and they do, so I placed a hold on it. Can’t wait to read it!

Wow! I hope you like it. 🙂

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