Book Club Day: ‘Under the Mesquite’ by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Under the Mesquite

As the oldest of eight siblings, Lupita is used to taking the lead—and staying busy behind the scenes to help keep everyone together. But when she discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, Lupita is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit Mexican American family. Suddenly Lupita must face a whole new set of challenges, with new roles to play, and no one is handing her the script.

In the midst of juggling life as a high school student, testing her wings as an actress, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, Lupita desperately wants to support Mami in whatever way she can. While her father stays with Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she escapes the chaos of home by writing in the shade of a mesquite tree. Overwhelmed by change and loss, she takes refuge in the healing power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about the testing of family bonds, the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience, and the kind of love that cannot be uprooted.

Our contributors have weighed in, and the verdict is unanimous: Everyone thinks “Under the Mesquite” is a wonderful book, and we highly recommend it to readers whether they’re Young or Adult. Read everyone’s take on the powerful coming-of-age story on the jump page!

“Young” Reader Average: B+

Ally graded the book an A:

“Under the Mesquite” is a heartwarming story of a teenage girl Lupita, who steps up as a mother for her 8 siblings when their beloved mami is diagnosed with cancer. Lupita is the epitome of a mature teenager, while keeping up with her grades in high school, rehearsing monologues for her drama classes and taking over the house, Lupita realizes how hard a mothers job really is. The relationship Lupita shares with her mother is beautiful. The way they understand each other can be compared to two best friends.

The heartache, and joy in this book really changes your emotions from one chapter to the next. Once Lupita steps into her mothers shoes, you can tell how much she admires her for everything she does for them. With all the love from her siblings and father, Lupita learns to let go and that life goes on. This book fills your heart with love, sadness and what it really means to grow up.

T graded the book a B+:

The book was amazing.  I loved it so much. The main character is Lupita, she is the oldest of eight children in a Mexican/American family. She is in high school and is taking on a path of acting. She will soon find out that when nothing is going right you can get lost in acting or writing.

When Lupita’s Mami (Mother) is diagnosed with cancer her whole world is changed. She must take charge of the family while her mother gets better. After Mami has an operation to remove the cancer she must under go chemo.

Even though she seems to be getting better after a year of chemo the cancer came back, but this time it is even worse. Papi decides that Mami must go to a special clinic in Galveston to get treatment which means that Lupita will be running the house all by herself. Even though it is hard running the household and seven kids, Lupita manages for the three months Mami is away.

I don’t want to give the ending away so you are going to have to read the book to find out what happens.

This book is not a fairytale as you can see but it really touched my heart, I even cried in some parts of it. Under the Mesquite has definitely made it to my top 5 favorite books.

Gina graded the book a B:

When I first heard about “Under the Mesquite” I thought I would not like it. It’s a poetry book and parts of it are in Spanish. But when I actually read the book I fell in love with it.  This book is about a girl who is the oldest out of 8 kids. She was born and raised in Mexico her life was great. She was always there helping her mother with her siblings and the cooking. Her father worked in the United States so he only visited once in a while. When like in Mexico started to go bad the family packed there things and left to go live in los Estados Unidos the United States of America, but when her mother gets diagnosed with cancer her whole life changes. She has to become the mother and help take care of everyone. She loses out on part of her life but she does it out of love because she loves her mother very much.
I would give this book a B because it was very good and well written. But at some parts the book dragged for me. She talked about the same thing a lot of the times. I think Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a very good writer she really gets you to visualize through her words what Lupita went through. This was a very good book.

“Adult” Reader Average: A

Cara graded the book an A+:

Lupita is the oldest of eight brothers and sisters in her close-knit Mexican-American family. She dreams of pursuing a career in acting but her world is torn apart when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. As her mother undergoes treatment, Lupita struggles to hold her family together while simultaneously traversing the pitfalls of adolescence. Through tragedy, she discovers hope and promise.

When I first realized this book was written in free verse, I worried that the form would make the story difficult to follow. I am very happy to say my fears were unfounded. Moreover, this captivating book evoked a range of emotions astonishingly complex for such a quick read. McCall’s words brought me back to my own difficult teenage years and the complicated relationship between my mother and I. A beautiful but sometimes painful read. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I loved it.

Jenn graded the book an A:

I’ve never been very fond of poetry, so at first I was leery about reading a book written in verse. But once I got into the story, I thought the format was effective. The chapters flowed well from one moment to the next, and I think it was the right format to delve into Lupita’s complex thoughts and feelings.

I felt an immediate connection to Lupita because her relationship with her family is similar to my own. But more than that, I felt like I could relate to her because of her love of words. From the moment her father teaches her to write, words are an important part of her life. Not only are they the key to her future, but as Lupita watches her mother fight cancer, she finds comfort in the plays she practices and the poems she writes under the mesquite tree in her mother’s rose garden. Words give her a welcome escape.

Throughout the story, the image of the mesquite tree reappears and we’re reminded of its innate sense of survival. It isn’t difficult to make a connection between Lupita and the tree. Her roots are strong and deep as she grows skyward, and despite life’s attempt to cut her down, she flourishes.

“Under the Mesquite” is a lovely book, and I enjoyed it very much. It deals with heavy issues, but the overall message is hopeful. No matter what life throws at Lupita, she handles it with unimaginable strength for a girl her age.

Taylor graded the book an A:

The first book I read as part of the Teen Lit Rocks group was Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.  A moving autobiographical novel written in verse, it follows Lupita as she journeys towards adulthood, straddles two cultures, helps to raise her siblings, finds her passion, and watches her mother deteriorate (and finally pass away) from cancer.  The last piece of literature I read in verse was Beowulf, way back in high school.  I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about this one.  Would I enjoy a novel written in verse?  Would I “get” it?  Would I remember my five years of Spanish and know the phrases peppered throughout the book without having to check the included glossary?

I actually read this book from cover to cover in one evening.  I put my kids to bed, picked up the book, and could not put it down.  McCall’s prose is lyrical and moves fluently, drawing one in to the story.  A “chapter” could be a stand-alone poem; each one is full of vivid imagery and gripping emotions.  McCall told Lupita’s story very tenderly (I often forgot that these were events that actually DID happen in the author’s life), with a quiet reserve and dignity.  The love of the eight siblings was so evident in each verse (when the apparent ne’er-do-well brother runs off with his rowdy friends, only to return with dinner for a hungry bunch of kids, my heart smiled); it was second only to the clear worship Lupita had for the light of her world – her mother…

Watching Lupita grow from a ninth-grader to a rising freshman in college was a privilege I’m lucky to have had.  I’m thankful that McCall was so willing to pour herself out in verse, because I cannot think of a better way to tell this story.

Diana graded the book a B+:

There are simply not enough YA books with good, strong Latino characters.  In truth, there aren’t enough Latino authors writing YA books, so it gave me great pleasure to read Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

Garcia McCall vividly portrays a poor, Mexican-American family from the Texas border town of Eagle Pass, Texas.  Lupita is the oldest of eight siblings in the family.  We see the family struggle with survival, while trying to fulfill their dreams in America.  When her mother is diagnosed with cancer we see the effect that it has on Lupita and her entire family.

By writing the story in verse, Garcia McCall is able to depict Lupita’s emotions as she deals with her mother’s struggles with cancer.  We are able to sense the emotional upheaval that the entire family experiences.  We especially feel Lupita’s fears, her Mami’s pain and Papi’s suffering at the thought of losing his beloved.  It is bittersweet as the family sacrifices everything for Mami and Lupita discovers how resilient she really is.

Under the Mesquite, is a true testament to the Mexican-American spirit, and it was  fitting to read it during Hispanic Heritage Month.


“Under the Mesquite” is published by Lee & Low Books. You can find out more about this book and its author, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, on her website.




  1. Shanyah Stewart says:

    i have a book report due tomorrow on this and i couldn’t finish the book so I am in a panic.

  2. I give it a A+

    Iloved the book I really relate to the book Im the oldest of siblings


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  2. […] Garcia McCall is the author of “Under the Mesquite,” which  won the 2012 Pura Belpré Award for Text and was selected as a 2012 William C. Morris Award […]

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