Do you love YA fiction? Do you love a love story? Do you love immigrants? Well friends, I have the book for you: Dream Things True.
I received this book as a Christmas gift, and I simply had so much fun reading it. The basic premise is a high school romance between a young, white Southern boy and an undocumented Mexican girl. The story is set in Georgia and unlocks the different worlds in which these two characters live.
It was surprisingly touching to read a story that hit so close to home, having dated (and then married) an undocumented immigrant myself. It's very rare that we recognize snippets of our own experiences in broader stories. And I felt very connected to young Alma and Evan.
I am delighted that author Marie Marquardt agreed to an interview. Keep reading to check out our conversation, and enter to win a copy of Dream Things True at the end!
Q: What inspired you to write this book? What's your connection to immigration in Georgia?
Marie: I am a sociologist of religion by training, and for almost two decades my academic research has been with Latin American immigrants to the U.S. South. Through that work, I developed many great friendships with Latino/a immigrants, most of whom were (and still are) living undocumented in the United States.
I was inspired by these relationships to work in service and advocacy with immigrant communities. I currently co-chair a small non-profit called El Refugio Ministries, which serves immigrants in detention and their families.
It has been a great privilege to be a part of the lives of so many undocumented immigrant families – and to watch their extraordinary, resilient kids grow up. When I hear so much misinformation and politicized rhetoric around undocumented immigration, it all seems so far from the everyday realities of the families I know.
I wrote this story because I wanted to affirm the experience of these undocumented families. I wanted for more people to get those “snippets of our own experience” that you recognized, and I also wanted to give people who haven’t had these experiences a chance to understand them more intimately.
Q: One powerful moment for me in the book was highlighting the role of churches around issues of social justice. After immigration raids, Ms. King, the African-American guidance counselor, the Latina protagonist Alma, and white American boyfriend Evan all acknowledge how their churches will respond. Can you share a little about why you included that section?
I’m fascinated by religion, and I’ve spent much time researching religious social movements and the role that religious beliefs and organizations play in the lives of immigrants.
It was inevitable, I guess, that this interest would shape the way I wrote Dream Things True. Everything I write about the role of churches is very realistic, and based on my own experience in similar communities.
Q: I found the anger and confusion of the white boyfriend Evan to be so relateable. He is a generally nice kid who is totally unaware of the experiences of others in his community. What did you draw on to write his awareness journey?
Marie: I have spent a good deal of time with U.S. citizen students, taking them on trips to the U.S./Mexico border and also working with them as volunteers at El Refugio, where they visit with detained immigrants.
It breaks my heart to have to accompany them on a journey of growing awareness and understanding. Often, they – like Evan – have the (not unreasonable!) expectation that a solution can be found to just about any problem, as long as you have smart people seeking it, or you have the right connections. As Evan does in the story, they have to come to the painful realization that this isn’t always the case.
Q: Race and ethnicity is of course a major player in this story. I'd love to hear more about the dynamics you wanted to explore with the characters.
Marie: I wanted for this story to reflect the complicated and rapidly-changing realities of Southern communities. For this reason, I wrote a very diverse cast of characters.
It also was important to me that the story at least make reference to some of the parallels between what is happening in the South now and what happened during the civil rights era. Since Mrs. King is an older woman who has lived through a great deal, she’s able to bring out that comparison for readers (and for Evan and Alma).
Q: You've written several academic/non-fiction books on immigration. What inspired you to write a YA novel?
Marie: Because I’ve written non-fiction books about undocumented immigration, I often get asked to talk with groups of non-immigrants about these issues. I know a lot of facts and figures, and sharing these can help people think about immigration in new ways, but I find that what’s really important is relationship.
Knowing and loving a person who faces these complicated issues is what makes us care to understand them better. Not everyone gets the chance to know and love an undocumented immigrant, but fiction can give us all the opportunity to step into their lives – the lives of immigrants and the lives of people who love them.
This is powerful, and I believe it is so important – it helps us to overcome all of the heated political rhetoric, and simply to see each other as human beings deserving of love and respect.
I couldn't agree more. I think relationship and story are some of the most powerful ways to help us see different viewpoints about important topics. And I'm grateful for Dream Things True and the ways it may be helping young adults (and those of us who love YA fiction) to talk about and learn about immigration.
UPDATE: Giveaway ended Monday, February 15, 2016.
LIKE TO READ? Check out some of my other favorite multicultural books here.
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