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Breaking Through

Selected Reviews of Breaking Through


Hazel Rochman, Booklist Editor’s Choice, September 6, 2001

“Jimenez autobiographical story The Circuit (1997) broke new ground with its drama of a Mexican American migrant child in southern California. It won many prizes and was a booklist Editors’ Choice. This moving sequel is a fictionalized memoir of Jimenez’s teenage years in the late 1950’s, when the family finally stayed in one place and Francisco and his brothers worked long hours before and after school to put food on the table. First they picked strawberries in the fields. Later the jobs got better: cleaning offices, washing windows and walls, waxing floors. The prose here is not as taut as in the first book, but Jimenez writes with simplicity about a harsh world seldom seen in children’s books. He also writes about a scary, sad, furious, and broken father – like the father in Na’s A Step from Heaven [BKL Je 1 & 1501]. He stays true to the viewpoint of a teenager growing up poor” the yearning (What would it be like to live in a house, rather than the crowded barracks?); the ignorance (College?); the hurt of prejudice. Yet he celebrates his Mexican roots even as he learns to be an American. The images are powerful, especially the one of the boy cleaning offices before dawn, with notes of English words to memorize in his shirt pocket. An excellent choice for ESL classes, this book for many readers, who may discover an America they didn’t know was there.”


Roger Sutten, Editor, The Horn Book Magazine, November/December 2001

“A sequel to The Circuit (1997), this…memoir stays true to the point of view of a “While retaining the immediate and graceful prose of Jimenez’s short story cycle The Circuit, this sequel follows the more traditional pattern of the coming-of-age novel. Beginning just where The Circuit ended, the memoir finds Francisco and his family obtaining visas that will finally allow them to enter and stay in the United States without fear of deportation. The time is the late 1950’s and at first, Francisco and his older brother Roberto return to Santa Maria alone, where they go back to school (eight grade for Francisco, eleventh for Roberto) and work, thinning lettuce, picking carrots, and cleaning the high school on the weekends. The eventual return of the rest of the family is a happy event, but it also raises tensions as Francisco and Roberto begin to live and dream outside the boundaries determined by their loving but demanding father, himself increasingly bitter as decades of farm work take their toll. For all its recounting of deprivation, this is a hopeful book, told with rectitude and dignity. Like its hero, the book’s pace is steady and deliberate, relying upon natural development rather than theatrics or melodrama to achieve its goals. By the standards of contemporary YA realism, Francisco and his story are remarkably well behaved, but one never senses over-neatening by the author; rather, his truth to his teenaged self demonstrates a respect that embraces the reader as well.”


Allen Figueroa Deck, “Pride After Prejudice” America 24-31, 2001

“Reviewing, Francisco Jimenez’ autobiographical treatment of his early years through high school was a moving-even spiritual-experience….” In his deceptively simple book Francisco captures the earliest patterns of meaning and motive that subliminally shape a lifetime. It is all about family, work, faith , caring, love, honesty and that elusive word Mexicans use that says it all: respeto….The story is told through the eyes of a child turning adolescent. The family worked in various locations throughout California but eventually settled in Santa Maria, Calif., on a ranch where the elder Jimenez, his wife and children supported themselves picking crops, cleaning stores and homes, ironing and doing any other honest form of labor. There is nothing particularly exceptional about any of this. What makes the difference is the honesty with which Francisco tells the story from the perspective of a child who is about eight years old when the story starts and 18 when it ends….More than anything else, though, Breaking Through shows how small, everyday encounters with family, teachers, and coworkers can profoundly change one’s whole life. Francisco is careful to show how loving parents and teachers like Mr. Lema or counselors like Mr. Penney sowed the seeds of self-worth that eventually led to Francisco’s “breaking through” the barriers of discrimination and poverty. All of this he does with humor and good taste. There is nothing remotely pretentious or patronizing about Francisco’s smoothly flowing narrative. I delighted in the sweet pathos of his boyhood experiences and gradual awakening to girls, politics and the joys of reading. Francisco Jimenez writes in an almost austere, unadorned prose. English composition teachers will be delighted with his crisp, short sentences. Here is one non-native English speaker who really gets it! (I think spontaneously of Joseph Conrad’s great accomplishment in English as second language.) It is a remarkably easy to read especially suitable for young people. The bilingual reader will appreciate Francisco’s effective use of Mexican Spanish patois. Francisco sees the world in this book as a Mexican American teenager, a most conflicted time of life. To this he adds embarrassing situations that come from being poor, Mexican, Spanish-speaking and undocumented. He faithfully captures many moments of pain, pathos, humor and occasional hilarity. What emerges from the cocoon is a hopeful and promising young man.

I highly recommend this book to junior high school teachers. It models a pattern of everyday existence that immigrant and working class young people will find most compelling and attractive. Francisco Jimenez account is profoundly human, ordinary and yet enchanted. It speaks of the spark of goodness in all human beings. As such, Breaking Through is a hopeful, stirring and unforgettable story.”


Libby Bergstrom VOYA, December 2001

“I lived in constant fear for ten long years, from the time I was four until I was fourteen years old.” The author’s fear becomes reality in eighth grade, when immigration officials took him from school. His family was being deported back to Mexico. In this sequel to The Circuit (Houghton Mifflin, 1999), Jimenez uses deceptively simple prose to describe the life shaping events that occurred from the deportation through his high school years. Once he is able to return to the United States, school dances and student government responsibilities must be balanced with working to help support his family. College seemed an impossible dream to this immigrant boy from a poor family, but caring teachers and counselors helped him both to find financial resources and to overcome the reluctance of his father to send his son away to school. The book ends as his family drives him to the University of Santa Clara to a start to a new chapter in his life.

Jimenez first experienced reading for pleasure when his sophomore English teacher introduced him to The Grapes of Wrath. He was entranced by characters whose experiences mirrored his own working in the fields of California. By sharing from his own, he provides readers the same possibility to become involved with a book. The simple language makes this work an excellent choice for reluctant readers and ESL students who will relate to how Jimenez’s deep ties to his family are stretched by living in a new culture. “


Southwest Books of the Year: Lesley Bailey’s Picks

“In this sequel to The Circuit, the author simply and movingly recounts his teenage years in Southern California as a member of a Mexican family of undocumented farm workers. Although the family faced extreme hardship and prejudice, their love for each other and determination to succeed in the country they emigrated to for a better life gave Jimenez the strength and support he needed to “break through.” This story is an important one, as it makes personal and immediate experiences shared to some extent by so many people in the Southwest and elsewhere in out country. “


Books about Multiculturalism in CA. & the U.S. online

“The sequel to The Circuit covers Jimenez’s life from the age of 13 to his triumphant acceptance to college. It is another tale of grinding poverty told movingly, without bitterness or sentimentality. Prejudice is mixed with kindness.”


San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 2001

“The award-winning author of “The Circuit” (and a Santa Clara University professor) graciously offers up a second moving and must-read memoir, this time about his teen years as an immigrant from Mexico (both legal and illegal) and his family’s struggle to overcome poverty and prejudice in California.”


San Jose Mercury News, Sunday, December 2, 2001)

“Breaking Through ….a compelling and inspiring memoir of a migrant worker childhood makes for must reading in explaining a slice of the American experience.”


Bulletin, January 2002

“The author of The Circuit continues his autobiographical journey with this aptly title work….Jimenez views his life with a clear, unsentimental eye, but that doesn’t detract from the emotional impact of the many poignant incidents he recalls. Life isn’t all darkness, though: struggles with school work are leavened by learning to dance; backbreaking work in the fields is lightened by rotten-strawberry fights; encounters with racism are balanced by generous teachers and employers who point him toward college and scholarships and show him how he can break through and change his life. The writing is simple and evocative, and the storytelling is effectively succinct without abbreviating or over manipulating events. A short afterward by the author explains whatever license he has taken with his won life; black-and-white photos are included.”


Carol A. Edwards, Somona County Library, Santa Rosa, CA School Library Journal, September 2001

“Maturity means breaking through the cocoon into freedom for Panchito, whose adolescence is described in this sequel to The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (Houghton, 1999). The simplicity of life and the unending work for the whole family continues here, but is mitigated by Panchito’s increased awareness and gradual loss of innocence as he learns to make his life a success. His father’s bitterness, pain, and need for unquestioning obedience is matched by his mother’s ability to coax agreement out of her son. The clash of cultures between teen insolence in the U.S. and Mexican respect for elders’ authority is vividly portrayed, as is the injustice and casual bigotry often endured by young and old. Fortunately, the protagonist, now often known as Frankie, finds friends and employers willing to recognize his strength of character and ability. While sure to be inspiring and reassuring to readers mesmerized by the first book, this follow-up lacks the intensity and voice so memorable in that one, as is consequently less affecting. Still Jimenez ably helps readers see the world of 1950s and 1960s California through adolescent eyes. Rock ’n’ roll, Kennedy versus Nixon, the old-boy network of service clubs, the humiliation of deportation, and the painful struggle to have the right clothes are among the pieces of that world that readers with a startling clarity from a new perspective. The photos at the end are great additions."


The New Advocate, Summer 2002

“Readers are first presented with Francisco Jimenez as he and his family illegally cross the border from Mexico to the United States when he is four years old. The last image of Francisco is one of his family proudly dropping him off at college. Between these two points many events happen to the close-knit family, from being caught by the border police, racial discrimination, and economic hardship, but through it all they persevere. Told from Jimenez’s own perspective, his touching memoir will connect with many readers because of his honest depiction of hardship faced and a strong need for familial bonds while growing up. Although the book focuses on the problems of a poor migrant family, it also evokes memories for readers of their individual experiences with family and community while growing up. Jimenez also describes the devastating poverty he and his family faced, forcing all members of the family to contribute as they tried to survive in California. As a follow up to his earlier acclaimed novel The Circuit, this inspiring story tells all children, and teachers, that with determination, hard work, and love, anything is possible.”


Smithsonian, November 2001

“…In this sequel to his autobiographical novel, The Circuit, Jimenez chronicles his family’s fierce determination to overcome the crushing poverty they face as field laborers in California’s Central Valley during the 1950s and early ’60s. His page-turning narrative, devoid of sentimentality or rancor, is a substantial contribution to the literature of the memoir.”


Lee Galda, Riverbank Review, Fall 2001

“Breaking Through is the sequel to Francisco Jimenez’s acclaimed The Circuit. This second novel is based on Jimenez’s own life experience begins in Francisco’s fourteenth year with his deportation from Santa Maria, California, to Mexico. His teen years of worry are over – it is actually happening He is distraught” he’ll have to leave school, and what will happen to his family? They journey together to Mexico, where they wait, hoping to be granted immigrant visas. When they are, the family rejoices, but they separate anyway, with Francisco and his older brother returning to Santa Maria and the rest of the family going to Guadalajara to stay with relatives while the father finds a healer to relieve the pain in his back. When the family reunites in California in the spring, Francisco rejoices.

In Jimenez’s description of his family life, work, and school experience, we see a boy who is determined to be good and do well. We witness his respect for his father even as he chafes under his demand for unquestioning obedience. We observe the closeness between Francisco and his brothers, and the comfort provided by his mother’s love. We watch a young man who struggles to do homework after working all day to feed his family, a young man whose eventual academic achievement takes him away from his family but not, we trust, from their love.

What is truly remarkable about this book is the joy that springs from its pages. The family is extremely poor, but they work hard and love one another. Francisco encounters prejudice, but he also engenders respect. He comes up against obstacles and then finds a way around them. His hope and his love for his family shine through his words as he tells his own lived version of the great American dream.”


Booklist , March 13, 2003

Grade 7-12 “Senderizos Fronterizos [Jimenez’s Spanish translation of Breaking Through] This Spanish-language follow up to Cajas de carton is written in the same direct, steady tone as the English edition. Here, Jimenez relates incidents that took place during his teenage years – from his family’s deportation to Mexico to his admission to college. Especially poignant are his efforts to help his hard-to-please father support the family as he tries to keep up with his schoolwork….Readers will rejoice in this upbeat story that encourages them to “romper el capullo y convertirse en mariposas’(break through and become butterflies). Unlike the English edition, this does not include photos of Francisco and his family.


Molly Hansbrough, librarian, “Book Picks,” The Register-Guard, City/Region, Monday, March 17, 2003

"Some stories beg to be told, even if it take 40 years to tell them. In sharing autobiographical reminiscences of his childhood in this book and its sequel, Jimenez, chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department and a professor of Spanish studies at Santa Clara University, became an unlikely award-winning children’s author. With a touching but gritty glimpse into the rough life that the Jimenez family endure in their quest for survival and respect, we follow them as they crawl under a wire fence at the U.S. border in 1943 to begin the circuit from migrant camp to migrant camp. In the 12 vignettes that make up “The Circuit,” we witness the family’s hardships through the eyes of a young boy struggling to learn English and feel comfortable in America, where his culture is not often welcomed. We admired the close bonds that hold his family together in spite of poverty and backbreaking physical labor. In the book’s searing climax, we watch in shock as the family seems to lose all they have worked so hard to achieve. And finally, in the sequel, we rejoice in the more positive turn the family’s fortunes eventually take.

This is a family you just can’s get out of your head of your heart. “The Circuit” and “Breaking Through” are a perfect read for all middle and high school kids and a great lesson for all of us to remember that dreams can come true if one is willing to work hard for them. Because not much is written for children about the Latino immigrant experience, Jimenez’s books are also a wonderful way to educate all of us about the cultural experience of our increasingly important Latino community, as well as learn something about ourselves along the way."


Maria Otero-Boisvert, Criticas” 2003

Grade 5-8. "These two books together offer first-hand accounts of life as a migrant worker in the United States in the 1950’s. Jimenez uses his own biographical detail and family stories to paint an intimate and, at times, nostalgic picture of his family’s struggles to survive as undocumented workers in California. The author does not attempt to gloss over the daily struggles with hunger, poverty, homeless, and hard work. The family survives from season to season by following crops up and down the California coast, living in tent cities and shacks, avoiding la migra (“immigration authorities”) and, throughout it all, finding a way to send the children to school. Jimenez presents his story first person as seen through a child’s eyes, which lends an authenticity to the anecdotes. Originally published in English in 1997, sections of Cajas de carton have also appeared in periodical publications. The second book, first published in English in 2001, picks up the narrative as Panchito is getting ready for high school but first has to deal with the deportation of his entire family. From these dire beginnings, the story goes on to chronicle the success of the author as he timidly ventures beyond his social sphere, becomes the senior class president, and eventually earns a college scholarship. Both text have been ably translated by the author. Named a Pura Belpre honor book, both Sendoros Fronterizos and its sequel belong in every library serving Mexican American populations. The straightforward narrative lends itself to classroom use as well as to independent reading, and it will appeal to adult readers as well as middle-schoolers.”