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A moral dilemma over illegal immigration forces teen to make a hard choice

By Jo Ann Hernandez


Tyler is having a bad year. His grandfather died, then his father was in an accident and almost killed. Tyler’s father will eventually recover, but not in time to save the farm. When Tyler comes back from a month-long visit with relatives, he discovers that his parents have hired three Mexicans to work the farm. His parents don’t tell him the whole truth, and Tyler discovers that the Mexican workers are not citizens.


In addition, Tyler meets the three daughters of the workers; they are known as the “Three Maria’s”. The oldest, Mari, goes to school with Tyler. Tyler feels a strong friendship developing between him and Mari but he also finds himself struggling with knowing that Mari and the other Mexican workers are illegally in the country and what he should do about it.

“Return to Sender” by Julia Alvarez is a young adult novel, for ages 10 and up, that attempts to explain the life and struggles of undocumented Mexican families. Inspiration for the title comes from the actual dragnet operation that the Department of Homeland Security conducted in 2006 where work sites were raided and undocumented workers seized, often leaving their children behind until they could be reunited.

Julia Alvarez wisely constructs this dilemma with no real heroes or villains. Through the interactions of the three daughters, and mostly through Mari’s letters, and Tyler’s struggle to know what is the right or wrong thing to do, the reader experiences the strengths and positives of hard working people aiding a farmer in need. Readers also learn about which laws are crossed by both Mexican and American citizens to assist people on both sides of the border.

This story enlightens the reader to the real people involved in what is called the illegal immigration issue.

Jo Ann Hernandez is assistant Bookshelf editor and author of the award-winning “White Bread Competition” and “The Throwaway Piece,” as well as, creator and publisher of BronzeWord Latino Authors web site.

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