A lyrical coming-of-age novel about the bleak, hand-to-mouth existence of migrant workers and the power of the human spirit to rise above adversity. Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories, 1985) displays gifts of understanding and storytelling unusual for a first novel. Thirteen-year-old Estrella migrates with her family -- mother, Petra; her mother's companion, Perfecto; her two brothers, Arnulfo and Ricky; and twin sisters, Perla and Cookie -- from camp to camp in search of work. Their most prized possessions -- birth certificates, a social-security card, other important papers -- are kept under a statue of Jesus in a makeshift shrine they set up wherever they go. Days are full of hard labor, hot sun, little food. Nights are worry, cramped quarters, no privacy. School is a rarity, the future nonexistent. Estrella's real father abandoned the family when the twins were little. Perfecto, almost twice her mother's age, has stepped into that role now, and Estrella sometimes chafes under the arrangement. When she meets Alejo, another migrant her age at the new camp, sparks fly. But any dream of a better life is soon dashed when Alejo comes down with a grave illness, ""daâ‚¬o of the fields,"" after being heavily sprayed with pesticides. The family seeks medical help for Alejo, who is clearly near death. But when the last of their money is taken by the camp's nurse, who merely refers them to a hospital miles away, Estrella makes a defiant stand. Her actions are liberating, condemning, and, no matter the outcome, empowering. A compelling debut with prose that sometimes stumbles but more often soars in describing human suffering and faith.