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Lessons learned in the field

Joe Pedersen is a farmer's son. Despite having grown up where seasons are marked by the passage of Mexican farmworkers, he's hardly noticed them. Like his spoiled friend, Randy, Joe can't distinguish between Manuel, the crew boss, and chubby Carlos - although 14-year-old Luisa, with her liquid eyes and a dark braid, makes more of an impression.

For his 14th birthday, Joe decides he must have a Thunderbird motorbike, just like the one Randy got. The bike - with tax, delivery, gas, and the quality helmet his mother insists on - costs more than $1,000.

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In his stern and silent way, Joe's father decides that it's time the boy learns a lesson about money. He will let Joe have the bike, but Joe must pay for it himself with what he earns working beside the Mexican laborers on the family's farm.

Somewhere between his clumsy replanting of cabbages and the excruciating squat he must do to pick strawberries, Joe forgets about the Thunderbird and comes to respect and care for Luisa, Manuel, and the rest of the crew.

Peppered with easily understandable and smoothly translated bits of Spanish, "Under the Same Sky" explores real issues faced by Mexican migrant workers, like raids by the INS and harassment by ignorant neighbors.

Characters throw out racial slurs more freely than is needed to make a point, but the story is touching, even suspenseful. And it teaches an important lesson of tolerance without sounding preachy. After all, the sky that Luisa's family has told her to look up to when she misses them in Mexico is the same one Joe scans when he misses Luisa.