A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story in which a wealthy Southern boy falls in love with an undocumented Mexican girl and together they face perils in their hostile Georgia town. Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much -- except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There's too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she's an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one's family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.
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What worked for me--
The love story itself:
There were times when the reality of Alma and Evan's situation was so real, it brought tears to my eyes. These star-crossed lovers have a genuine and finely written romance. I found myself rooting for Evan and wanting him to be better for her.
Alma's character deals with a lot of pressure. She's an incredible student, and way beyond her class level. Her advocate, Mrs. King, tries her hardest to get Alma scholarships. Alma is a realist. She knows that without a social security number, it doesn't matter how good her grades are. Alma's journey starts at "model immigrant" to realist. She questions everything she's done. She questions the hypocrisy that calls for immigrants to follow the rules without room for error, while white citizens get the luxury of breaking the law and getting by on privilege. This is not to say that anyone should be allowed to be unlawful. But the racial profiling and the persecution that the immigrant community faces is unjust. Marie Marquardt doesn't shy away from this.
Being a Mexican girl:
Marquardt, an advocate for immigrants, writes honestly about Mexican girls. Alma isn't a trope, she's a full-fledged character with complex wants and needs. The other Latinas in Alma's circle, the cousins and friends, get the same treatment.
Immigration and undocumented people:
Marie Marquardt gives an informative look at ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) without being didactic. ICE has been on the news lately, and the political climate of the US is reflected in this book.
While Evan is a bit of a dream himself, it is nice to imagine that a boy like this exists. He's compassionate, sweet, understanding, and wants to immerse himself in Alma's culture. He's got moments where his thoughts turn more sexual, but that's believable and necessary when writing an 18-year-old boy. Evan confronts his privilege, even though he doesn't always accept it. He's wealthy, connected, and has never wanted for something in his life. He's naive when it comes to racial prejudices. He tries to rationalize the behavior of his friends, even when he's angry over it.
There are times when Evan gets so angry at the racist things his friends say that he stays quiet. His walls are breaking, and so is the comfortable world he knew. One moment stuck in my mind. Alma is very blunt about her life and circumstance. She has no qualms calling out Evan's white privilege. He would get frustrated and ask her "Why do you talk like that?" She wasn't afraid to make him uncomfortable. When writing about this subject, it's important to feel uncomfortable because that's how people learn.
What left me wanting--
There was a date rape subplot that should have been addressed with more urgency. I think the resolution was satisfactory, but it is a sensitive subject.
DREAM THINGS TRUE is a heart wrenching and realistic love story that challenges the way we look at immigration. Alma and Evan are characters the reader wants to root for.
What worked: The bittersweet at times love story between these two is believable and realistic. I love how Marquardt didn't sugar coat or manipulate readers with stereotypes or cliches. Alma's family life is portrayed in a realistic light. She doesn't fit the stereotype at all. Her family is tight and look out for each other. Alma is smart but being undocumented holds her back from her dreams of going to the university and getting out of the small Georgia town.
Evan doesn't come across as being arrogant like some of his soccer buddies. There were a few times though, when some racist comments are flung towards undocumented workers, and he doesn't speak up that did bug me. He does redeem himself later on though by standing at Alma's side even when his family totally disapproves.
Their backgrounds are totally different. I like that Alma is a strong protagonist that doesn't settle for anything less. There are lots of portrayals of what undocumented families deal with daily. The fear of being round up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is very real. I saw this when back in the 90s when there was an English only proposal on California ballots. My student's parents told me they were afraid that the ICE would come into my classroom and take their children away. There also are scenes of families being broken apart and send back to Mexico.
Huge kuddos for the twist at the end. Alma arcs as a character when she finds the strength she needs to confront her own fears.
Bittersweet glimpse into the lives of a couple from two different worlds and how love might be able to crack through the hatred thrown their way. An important read right now especially in light of recent political rhetoric that targets undocumented immigrants.
2. Authentic voice
3. Forbidden love set in the South during movement to sent all undocumented immigrants back to Mexico.