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.
Tell Me More: Stories about illegal immigrant teens are rare, if they exist at all from Big Five publishers, and I was more than surprised when I first heard about Dream Things True. Quite obviously a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Marie Marquadt’s debut novel was not the story I hoped for, nor is it the story I think these characters deserve.
Alma is likeable enough, if a bit aloof, but she doesn’t have to be likeable to be a fleshed-out character. Her priority is survival, and Marquadt lays out the groundwork for Alma’s determination pretty effectively. Her family’s lack of legal status in the United States prevents them from any sense of stability or security, and Alma herself doesn’t know if she has a future after high school that doesn’t involve working at the same factory that her family and friends do, because it’s the only place in town that doesn’t ask too many questions.
Questions are never innocuous in Alma’s life, and Marquadt does a fair job of showing that tension in how Alma puts up walls and doesn’t trust easily. However, it makes the fast infatuation that develops between her and Evan a little less believable. Instead of being swept away by their emotions, I found myself questioning what it was that drew them to each other, besides the whole “girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks” trope.
Dream Things True is set up to tell a challenging story, and technically, all of the pieces are there, but for one: it lacks real emotion. It comes closest in scenes featuring Alma’s family, their constant worry and fear obvious though not quite palpable. Alma cares for them and wants to be there for them, but part of her does bristle, a normal teen reaction. We have page time devoted to developing that tug-of-war in Alma’s head and heart, though your mileage may vary with regards to its success. I didn’t feel it was anywhere near as successful with Evan, who I couldn’t connect with before the book ended. It was difficult to be interested in him and his conflicts when the story is so slanted towards Alma and her life. Ultimately, the distance between the story I was told to expect from the cover copy and the story I got was too wide to even feel interesting and new.
Marie Marquardt is a college professor who lives with her husband, four kids, a dog, and a bearded dragon in a very busy household in Decatur, Georgia. Dream Things True is her first book of young adult fiction, and it was inspired by her work with Mexican immigrants in Georgia.