A teenager discovers racism and romance on his father's farm
For his fourteenth birthday, Joe Pedersen wants a motorbike that costs nearly a thousand dollars. But his mom says the usual birthday gift is fifty dollars, and his dad wants Joe to earn the rest of the money himself and "find out what a real day's work feels like." Angry that his father doesn't think he's up to the job, Joe joins the Mexican laborers who come to his father's farm each summer. Manuel, the crew boss, is only sixteen, yet highly regarded by the other workers and the Pedersen family. Joe's resentment grows when his father treats Manuel as an equal. Compared with Manuel, Joe knows nothing about planting and hoeing cabbage and picking strawberries. But he toughs out the long, grueling days in the hot sun, determined not only to make money but to gain the respect of his stern, hardworking father. Joe soon learns about the problems and fears the Mexicans live with every day, and, before long, thanks to Manuel, his beautiful cousin Luisa, and the rest of the crew, Joe comes to see the world in a whole different way.
In her sensitive new novel, Cynthia DeFelice explores our dependency on migrant workers and simultaneous reluctance to let these people into our country and into our lives.
Despite a heavy-handed start and a somewhat predictable outcome, DeFelice's (The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker) story about a 14-year-old who learns to respect the migrant workers on his father's farm offers much to absorb and stimulate readers. Joe, the narrator, initially seems spoiled as he asks for an $899 motorbike for his birthday ("Getting me the bike was the least my parents could do. Nobody had ever asked me if I wanted to grow up on a farm... in the middle of nowhere"). Joe's father decides Joe needs to learn the value of a dollar and tells him to earn the money by working in the fields. The plot conforms to type: Joe finds his tasks grueling and backbreaking and admires the skills of the hard-working crew of Mexicans, which includes teens who, like pretty 14-year-old Luisa, are wise beyond their years. At the same time Joe grows critical of his friends' shallow behavior and jaundiced attitudes and learns to think for himself. DeFelice shakes up convention, however, in a story line that draws attention to contradictory and confusing government policies regarding migrant workers. Without too much rigging of the scenes, she engineers a dramatic climax that allows Joe to demonstrate real courage-and that will let readers grapple with the notion that right and wrong are not always easily identifiable. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.