Book Review: The Circuit

“Not since Tomás Rivera’s . . . .and the earth did not part has a book expressed so well the experiences of the migrant campesinos as Francisco Jimenez has done in The Circuit.  Its contents are representative of the best in the field of Chicano short story.” ~Luis Leal

The Circuit is a series of independent but intertwined short stories that brings the reader into the life of a young Francisco Jiménez, or Panchito as he was known as a child.  Each autobiographical chapter can stand on its own, but when read in its entirety, it tells the story of Jimenez’ childhood growing up in a family of migrant farm workers.  While this may be a slightly different style of novel than many students are used to, it’s actually quite reader friendly.  Jiménez’s writing style is simple and clear—but not simplistic.  He manages to capture the tone of a young boy, engaging both young and old readers alike.  He expresses the emotions of Panchito in a way that a child could understand and relate to, but that also deeply move the adult reader.

Rudolfo Anaya describes The Circuit in the following manner: “This is truly a telling of the American Dream, a family who works hard under the worst of circumstances, and whose work is never recognized. . . .The family’s odyssey is heartrending, but it is the truth, and it’s skillfully told by someone who’s been there.”  Too often our classroom discussions of the American Dream gloss over or ignore stories like that of the Jiménez family.  At the beginning of the book, Jiménez writes, “. . .Papá’s eyes sparkled whenever he talked about it with Mama and his friends. ‘Once we cross la frontera, we’ll make a good living in California,’ he would say, standing up straight and sticking out his chest” (p. 1).  Unfortunately, our discussions of the possibilities of the American Dream, or even more recent conversations around immigration, stop there.   They don’t consider the rest of the story—what it was actually like for the Jiménez family, moving constantly, living in tents or run down shacks, barely making enough money to survive.  It’s easy to see why we might ignore this part of the story—it flies in the face of what we would like to believe is possible with hard work and commitment, it discredits our American Dream.  Yet, if we want to present the truth to our students, we have to expose them to stories like that of Francisco Jiménez.  Not only because it may teach them a part of our country’s history they’re not familiar with, but it may also legitimize a part of history that some of our students are all too familiar with because it represents their own family’s story.  Pat Mora explains it best: “May Francisco Jiménez’s stories trouble our individual and collective conscience, insisting that we confront the gap between historical rhetoric and the lives of migrant children in this land.”

Jiménez’s novel is an engaging and valuable one for adults and children alike.  Published in 1997, teachers have been using it in classrooms with great success for over a decade now. As an awarding winning book that is readily available in English and Spanish, it’s an incredible classroom resource.  There are numerous free teacher’s guides and supplementary materials available online to aid teachers in implementing The Circuit in elementary, middle and high school classrooms (I highlight a number of them at the beginning of our own Educator’s Guide).

The Circuit is the first of three novels that tells the story of Jiménez’s journey all the way through high school and college.  I should warn you though, The Circuit ends on a cliffhanger, so you may want to have the second book ready and waiting when you reach the end—both for you and your students.  Be sure to check out Ailesha’s post on the other two books in the series: Breaking Through, and Reaching Out.

I hope you are as moved by this book as I was.  If you use it in your own classroom, I’d love to hear about it and I’m sure our other teachers would too!

–Katrina

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Circuit

  1. This book is so insightful. It describes in great detail the life as a migrant farmer. I’m currently reading the young adult biography, “Jessie de la Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker” by Gary Soto (sorry it wouldn’t let me underline so I put it in quotes instead). I’m hoping to use these together when I get enough class copies of “The Circuit”. I also picked Jesse de la Cruz because she is a female example of a migrant farmer. It’s good to pair different viewpoints. My boys in my class often relate better to a main character that’s a male in the same way that my girls respond better to a main character that’s a female. I love these books!!! For my younger students “Esperanza Rising” is a good choice, but since I have a little older students now…I think I’m going to start with “The Circuit”.

    • I’m so glad that you liked it! Our book group had the same response that you did. Thanks so much for sharing about the Gary Soto book! Somehow, I’ve never heard of that book, but I’ve always loved Gary Soto’s work, so I’m going to have to read it now. It sounds like a perfect book to use with “The Circuit”–I love that the two books together give both a female and male main character. I’m sure your students will enjoy them!

  2. These two books seem ideal for ESL classes, where many of the students have recently arrived from other countries, working hard to achieve the “American Dream” with different degrees of success. They may be cooking or serving in restaurants or working in a dry cleaning business after school and on weekends, so the experience of another hard-working child will certainly resonate with them.

  3. I can definitely use this book in my Spanish class! I can include a chapter or two and eventually the entire book to my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year. I like that chapters can stand alone if need be and can finally introduce my students to the migrant farm worker! I together with my students look forward to reading the story of Jimenez’ childhood growing up as a migrant farm worker!

    • So glad it will be useful to you Doris! It’s definitely easier to use in the classroom since each chapter can stand on its own, and I think it’s written in such a way (since Jimenez attempts to write from the perspective of a child) that the Spanish isn’t too intimidating for a student learning the language.

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