The Circuit and Breaking Through

cover image for The Circuitcover image for Breaking ThroughJimenez, F. (1997) The Circuit. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Jimenez, F. (2008) Breaking Through. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin


When Francisco was little and he had only two brothers, his family lived across la frontera, in Mexico, and he dreamed of moving to California, like his papa always talked about. After his family finally made that dangerous journey, Francisco did not find money in the streets, as the stories said, instead he found hard work and long days working the circuit picking strawberries, cotton, grapes or whatever else was in season, wherever in California it may be planted. Francisco was still happy, though, despite always moving and never having enough money for doctors, toys, or warm jacket. Because in California, Francisco and his sibling are able to spend their weekdays attending school instead of working, at least some of the time.

In a series of stories, Jimenez tells the true story of how his family came to live and work in California, and what life was like as the child of migrant farm workers over half a century ago in California. The stories are slightly disjointed, in that large chunks of time pass between each without this being mentioned, but not so much so that young readers will have difficulty following the tale. Jimenez tells his story in a very matter of fact way and with a voice that is both distinctive and fitting. Not every tween will enjoy this book, but those that do will be captivated by Francisco’s struggles and spirit.

Breaking Through picks up where The Circuit left off, with Francisco in eighth grade and his family in trouble with la migra. It follows him through his high school years, where he flourishes, despite prejudice, poverty, and other obstacles. Where The Circuit leaves readers fascinated by Francisco’s struggles, Breaking Through is nothing less than inspiring. Matching Francisco’s growing maturity, the reading level is slightly above that of The Circuit, but the voice is still clearly the same.

Younger tweens are less likely to find the stories of the sequel in particular to be of high interest, but many who came to admire Francisco in The Circuit will still find much to keep them turning the pages in Breaking Through.

Best for ages 9-14, 12-16

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