Return to Sender

Return to Sender

by Julia Alvarez


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An award-winning, moving, and timely story about the families of undocumented workers by renowned author Julia Alvarez.
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?
In a novel full of hope, but with no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.
Winner of the Pura Belpré Award
Winner of the Américas Award
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
“A must-read.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Communicates in compassionate and expressive prose the more difficult points of perhaps the most pressing social issue of our day.” —San Antonio Express-News

“This timely novel, torn right from the newspaper headlines, conveys a positive message of cooperation and understanding.” —School Library Journal
“The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. . . . The questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.” —Booklist
“A tender, well-constructed book.” —Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375851230
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 09/14/2010
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 46,388
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Julia Alvarez is the award-winning author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. Her highly acclaimed books for young readers include The Secret Footprints, A Gift of Gracias, the Tía Lola series, Finding Miracles, and Return to Sender. Alvarez has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and Américas awards for her children’s books, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. In 2013, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. She is currently a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College and, together with her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, a sustainable coffee farm/literacy center in the Dominican Republic. Visit her on the Web at


Middlebury, Vermont

Date of Birth:

March 27, 1950

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

Read an Excerpt

Tyler looks out the window of his bedroom and can’t believe what he is seeing.
He rubs his eyes. Still there! Some strange people are coming out of the trailer where the hired help usually stays. They have brown skin and black hair, and although they don’t wear feathers or carry tomahawks, they sure look like the American Indians in his history textbook last year in fifth grade.
Tyler rushes out of his room and down the stairs. In the den his father is doing his physical therapy exercises with Mom’s help. The TV is turned on; Oprah is interviewing a lady who has come back from having died and is describ-ing how nice it is on the other side. “Dad,” Tyler gasps. “Mom!”
“What is it? What is it?” Mom’s hand is at her heart, as if it might tear out of her chest and fly away.
“There’s some Indians trespassing! They just came out of the trailer!”
Dad is scrambling up from the chair, where he has been lifting a weight Mom has strapped to his right leg. He lets himself fall back down and turns the TV to mute with the remote control. “ ’Sokay, boy, quiet down,” he says. “You want to kill your mom with a heart attack?”
Before this summer, this might have been a joke to smile at. But not anymore. Mid-June, just as school was letting out, Gramps died of a heart attack while working in his garden. Then, a few weeks later, Dad almost died in a farm accident. Two men down and Tyler’s older brother, Ben, leaving for college this fall. “You do the math,” his mom says whenever the topic comes up of how they can continue farming. Tyler has started thinking that maybe their farm is jinxed. How many bad things need to happen before a farm can be certified as a bad-luck farm?
“But shouldn’t we call the police? They’re trespassing!” Tyler knows his dad keeps his land posted, which means put-ting up signs telling people not to come on his property without permission. It’s mostly to keep out hunters, who might mistakenly shoot a cow or, even worse, a person.
“They’re not exactly trespassing,” his mom explains, and then she glances over at Dad, a look that means, You explain it, honey. 
“Son,” his dad begins, “while you were away . . .”
In the middle of the summer, Tyler was sent away for a visit to his uncle and aunt in Boston. His mom was worried about him.
“He’s just not himself,” Tyler overheard Mom tell her sister, Roxanne, on the phone. “Very mopey. He keeps having nightmares. . . .” Tyler groaned. Nothing like having his feelings plastered out there for everyone to look at. 
Of course Tyler was having nightmares! So many bad things had happened before the summer had even gotten started. 
First, Gramps dying would have been bad enough. Then, Dad’s horrible accident. Tyler actually saw it happen. Afterward, he couldn’t stop playing the moment over and over in his head: the tractor climbing the hill, then doing this kind of weird backflip and pinning Dad underneath. Tyler would wake up screaming for help. 
That day, Tyler rushed into the house and dialed 911. Otherwise, the paramedics said, his father would have died. Or maybe Dad would have been brought back to life to be on Oprah talking about the soft music and the bright lights. 
It was amazing that Dad was still alive, even if it looked like his right arm would be forever useless and he’d always walk with a limp. His face was often in a grimace from the pain he felt.
But the very worst part was after Dad got home and Tyler’s parents seriously began to discuss selling the farm. Mostly, it was his mom. His dad hung his head like he knew she was right but he just couldn’t bear to do the math one more time himself. “Okay, okay,” he finally said, giving up.
That was when Tyler lost it. “You can’t sell it! You just can’t!”
He had grown up on this farm, as had his dad before him, and Gramps and his father and grandfather before that. If they left their home behind, it’d be like the Trail of Tears Tyler learned about in history class last year. How the Cherokee Indians had been forced from their land to become migrants and march a thousand miles to the frontier. So many of them had died.
“Tiger, honey, remember our talk,” Mom reminded him pleasantly enough in front of Dad. Tiger is what his mom calls him when she is buttering him up. Before his father came home from the hospital, his right leg and arm still in a cast, Mom sat Tyler and his older brother and sister down for a talk. She explained that they must all do their part to help Dad in his recovery. No added worries (looking over at Ben, eighteen going on I’m-old-enough-to-do-what-I-want). No scenes (looking over at Sara, fifteen with a boyfriend, Jake, and “Saturday night fever” seven nights a week, as his dad often joked, back when he used to joke). No commotion (looking over at Tyler, who as the youngest sometimes had to make a commotion just to be heard). They must all keep Dad’s spirits up this summer.
But Tyler knew for a fact that selling the farm would kill his dad. It would kill Tyler!

Customer Reviews

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Return to Sender 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Julia Alvarez's new book, RETURN TO SENDER, explores the issue of illegal immigration. Two twelve-year-olds share their connected stories involving this politically sensitive subject.

Tyler's family runs a dairy farm. Up until the sudden death of his grandfather and then his father's farming accident, things had been going well. Now that his older brother is leaving for college, there isn't enough help around to do all that needs doing on the farm.

Tyler returns from a visit to his aunt and uncle's to learn that some new folks have moved into the trailer next door. The new people include a Mexican man, his two brothers, and his three daughters. There seems to be some secret about their presence on the farm that Tyler doesn't understand. They have started helping with the milking and other chores and seem to be a big help for his father; however, his mother seems hesitant to reveal too much information about the family.

From comments around town and the little bit Tyler overhears from his parents' discussions, he finally realizes that they might actually be breaking the law. The new workers are in the U.S. illegally. According to the information Tyler has gathered, not only could these new workers be arrested, but his parents could also be found guilty because they've hired the undocumented workers. Even though they seem to be saving the farm, they could bring more trouble than they are worth.

When school begins in September, Tyler learns that Mari, the oldest daughter, will be in his class. They begin talking and Tyler discovers that Mari is shy but friendly. As their friendship grows, he finds himself not thinking about her questionable status in his country; that is, until she becomes the victim of several cruel bullies in his class. In his attempt to defend Mari, he and his family also become a target. Tyler experiences some difficult times as he struggles to understand loyalty to friends, family, and country.

Mari's voice is heard through letters and diary entries as she recounts her view of living in the United States. Love for her own country and her appreciation for what the U.S. has to offer are both clear as she reacts to the situations around her.

RETURN TO SENDER presents a sympathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants. It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners. Though the issue is much more complicated, perhaps this book's message could give today's politicians something to think about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Soooo good!!!! Once i started reading it i just couldnt stop reading!! This book teaches you that just because someones looks different on the outside, doesnt mean that they are different on the inside. You can be friends with anyone!
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
*Gives insight into Operation Return to Sender instituted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a.k.a. ICE or La migra to some) in 2006. *Emotional. *Heart-wrenching. *A real eye-opener. *Offers an education about what may happen to workers without legal papers. *Learn the meaning of "La Golondrina," esperanza, and what a "coyote" is, and not the animal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RETURN TO SENDER presents a symphathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants.It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners.Though the issue is much more complicated,perhaps this book`s message could give todays politicians something to think about.
KarenBall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tyler's grandfather passed away, and not long after, his dad had a serious accident on their Vermont dairy farm. With the high medical bills for his father's recuperation and the hard work needed to run the farm, the family reaches out and quietly hires three migrant Mexican workers to help, so they don't have to sell the place. When the men arrive, the family is surprised to see three little girls get out of the car with them, but Tyler's parents welcome them and help them get what they need for themselves and the children. Tyler's lonely grandma especially enjoys the girls' company. Told from multiple points of view, this is story about the immigration debate that makes all sides easier to understand, as each has something to lose and something to fear, as well as much to gain. Part of the story is told through the oldest sister Mari's letters to her missing mother and her grandmother in Mexico, and the immigration experiences she describes are frightening at times. Tyler's family needs the men who work, who need to make money to support their family back in Mexico, but there are people who believe that anyone here illegally should be deported or worse... including old Mr. Rosetti, who seems out to get them. Friendship, citizenship, and hope for a better solution make this a worthwhile and thought-provoking story. 6th grade and up.
skstiles612 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tyler loves his farm. When his father is injured in a farming accident and he realizes they may have to sell the farm, Tyler loses it. His parents hustle him off to his aunt and uncle's house. When he returns his parents inform him they have found a way to save the farm. What they don't tell him is why he can't tell anyone about the Mexicans who are helping his father out. Tyler learns the truth about the three men and three young girls who live in the trailor. He has mixed feelings about harboring illegal aliens, until he gets to meet them. How far will he go to protect and help them? This was a wonderful story. I teach ESOL and figure that not all of the students I teach are probably legal. However, nothing irks me more than to have students look at a Mexican in one of our classes, whether they are Americans or not and make the comment that these illegal immigrants are stealing all of the American's jobs. When I tell that student that maybe we should send them all back and that way people like him would have a job, I wait. I know what will be coming. "Darn right. Then I could work and earn money and my uncle wouldn't be out of work." The statements go on and on. I look at them and smile and when they are finished I smile and say, "Exactly! If we gave those jobs to Americans we could get more off of the welfare roles. After all they are American fields and they should be worked by Americans young and old." You can usually hear a pin drop. "Wait a minute Miss, I ain't gonna work in no field." I usually laugh. "Really what job were you planning on taking over since they would be vacating the position?" "I want to work in an office or something Miss". That is when I usually break the news to them that the very people he wants to send back are the ones that would love to be able to work in an office. They are the ones who are willing to work in the fields to give their families a better life.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Everything's changing on Tyler's family's Vermont dairy farm. After his father had the accident and Tyler's older brother went to college, Tyler's dad had to hire workers from Mexico to help with the milking. At first Tyler is appalled their their family would hire illegal aliens, but once he gets to know Mari, daughter of one of the workers, he begins to change his mind. Mari writes letters to her mother who has been missing for months and might be dead. The alternating viewpoints give a well-rounded story about an important and relevant issue, but the format didn't work so well for me. I found it jarring to go back and forth between Mari's first-person, past-tense letters and Tyler's sections which were in the third person present tense. I liked Mari's portions, but I didn't connect as much with Tyler.
kjarthur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book, and I became a fan of Julia Alvarez's work. I was hooked from page one because she writes such wonderful characters who have depth, heart and very real struggles. Her word choice and voice can easily speak for many people who are in a situation like in the novel. As I read, i found that what Mari, the protagonist, shared and expressed in her letters and diary were words I wish I had or found myself saying, "Yes. That's so true." Alvarez writes a powerful story that I had to know what happened to Mari. I also appreciated that she allowed Mari and Tyler, another main character, to become genuine friends without throwing in a romantic angle. This is a book that I will buy for several friends and one that I will read again. Like Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising (another favorite of mine), this is story that all should read for she presents wisdom and truths that everyone can learn and gain.
koalatees on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Because Tyler¿s dad has an accident at the farm, the Paquettes have no choice but to hire illegal Mexican workers if they want to keep farming. At first Tyler does not know what to make of these workers. Why would his father, a patriotic man, do something so illegal? Soon, however, Tyler befriends the oldest daughter of one of the workers. The daughter, Mari, is in Tyler¿s sixth grade class. Mari¿s sisters, Luby and Ofie, are American citizens. What will the happen if Mari¿s family be caught by la migra?Return to Sender is fantastic read. In no way does Return to Sender say illegal immigration is okay. What it does is show that illegal immigrants are just human beings and need to be treated like ones. This novel shows the hardships illegal Mexicans must endure and addresses why they come illegally.Return to Sender also included the story of the Cruz sisters¿ struggle between being American and being Mexican. Mari, being born in Mexico, has always been the closest to her Mexican heritage, but at the farm, she realizes that she is perfectly happy to be in America. Luby and Ofie, on the other hand, are forgetting their Spanish. Sometimes, Mari even has to be the translator between her sisters and her father. Because the sisters¿ struggle is not the main point of the story, Alvarez barely addresses it. Luckily, the end naturally gives a satisfying conclusion to the story.What I loved most about Return to Sender was that Alvarez did not sugarcoat anything. By this, I mean she wrote realistically. Many of the things that happen in the story are frightening, and the end is bittersweet. I believe that Return to Sender has the power to change people¿s opinions on illegal immigration, and I would definitely recommend Return to Sender, especially to middle schoolers.
corydickason on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tend to find myself underwhelmed by Alvarez, and this is no exception. The main characters are likable, but the book is just too preachy to be really enjoyable. Still, we need books now more than ever that handle the immigration issue sensitively. This is another book that would be a good cornerstone to a project where students talk to older immigrants.
teacherliz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tyler is the son of a Vermont farmer who is injured and struggling to make ends meet. That's when Mari's family comes to work for them, allowing them to keep open the farm. Mari and her parents are illegal immigrants from Mexico, but her two youngest siblings are American siblings. The two families form strong relationships as they realize their similarities. This novel depicts the difficult reality many families face without offering any clear answers.ALA-Pura Belpre Award 2010This could be used to show different perspectives books can be written from, as it alternates between a third-person omniscient perspective when writing about Tyler's side of the story and a first person perspective in Mari's letters and diary entries. Also, it shows the human side of a controversial issue, which is one thing I think stories do best.
rosiefuzzypony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awesome book and great storyline!
VictoriaF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story "Return to Sender" is mostly about the life and a family whose providers are illegal immigration workers. In a Vermont dairy farm a boy's family, Tyler Paquette, were discussing about selling the family farm, which has been around in his father's family for a long time yet due to an injury his father received in an accident on the farm the family didn't know what to do, but consider in selling the farm. To avoid selling the farm, they hired a family group of three brothers who came from North Carolina to work. The three brothers who were of a Hispanic race and they did not have any have legal papers in the United States. The oldest brother had three daughters along with him, of those three, two were born here in the US while the oldest daughter, a sixth grader like Tyler, was born in Mexico. This is a touching story of how different members of the two total different families deal with the immigration situation and how complicated life can get when your trying to hold a secret that could cost you to be a separated from your family and a family who can get in major trouble by the law for the people they hired to help them in their situation.
Beth350 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story is basically about the ramifications of illegal immigra workers. A Vermont dairy farm boy's family, Tyler Paquette, is considering selling the family farm because his father was hurt in a accident. Instead, they hire a family group - three brothers- to come from North Carolina to work. These Mexican workers do not have legal papers. The oldest brother also has his three daughters with him - two born in the US. The oldest daughter, a sixth grader like Tyler, was born in Mexico.It's a touching story of how various members of the two famlies deal with the immigration situation.
Mary Provost More than 1 year ago
Good reading..a little complicated with it being mostly in "dear diary" form...felt badly for the situation, which apparently is based on factual information.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiss your hand three times podt this in three books and look under your pillow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for school and was not a ver big fan at the beginning. It got a little better towards the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NaomiCamacho More than 1 year ago
I think this book dealt with a lot of issues we see going on today. Reading through the eyes of children as narrators helped to simplify the problem. If we all looked at this issue with pure hearts like these narrators, it wouldn’t be so complicated. As she talks of all the problems she has, from her mother’s absence to her homesickness and loneliness, I felt for her. Nobody should have to deal with these issues, let alone a young girl. Seeing the friendliness of Tyler and all of his family toward Mari’s family showed me that everyone out there can show compassion toward the unfortunate. After all, we’re all people on this earth. We’re all trying to make a living. We all have a voice.
alexusM More than 1 year ago
My favorite read this book hits along the lines of illegal immigration and is a bit confusing as you try to connect the characters, but overall is a great read. Once you start reading it's extremely hard to stop. I would suggest this book for middle school students.
ACRain More than 1 year ago
Many children’s books due take on a fairytale quality where they keep children nestled in a cocoon of safety well hidden away from the troubles and problems of the world. Return to Sender is a book that will open up the eyes of young readers to some of the issues and problems of illegal immigration. The book uses a mix of two cultures to tell the story of friendship and hard circumstances that befall two families from very different worlds. This chapter book also gives and insight to some of the Hispanic culture through the uses of their holidays. While a good way to introduce children to diversity of culture parents might be cautioned of how the controversial issue of illegal immigration is presented in this book. Though the books first few chapters starts out slow and there are sections that don’t seem to fit in the book it turns out to be a bit worth the wait in the end.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago