Evan and Alma have spent fifteen years living in the same town, connected in a dozen different ways but also living worlds apart until the day he jumps into her dad's truck and slams on the brakes.
The nephew of a senator, Evan seems to have it all - except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two, surrounded by a large (sometimes smothering) Mexican family. They both want out of this town. His one-way ticket is soccer; hers is academic success.
When they fall in love, they fall hard, trying to ignore their differences. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins raids in their town, and Alma knows that she needs to share her secret. But how will she tell her country-club boyfriend that she and almost everyone she's close to are undocumented immigrants?
What follows is a beautiful, nuanced 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. This page-turning debut asks tough questions, reminding us that love is more powerful than fear in Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.90(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
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Dream Things True
By Marie Marquardt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Marie Marquardt
All rights reserved.
If you grab a machete blade near the bottom, just above the handle, it won't cut through your skin. That's what Alma was thinking, riding in her dad's truck way too early in the morning on the last Wednesday of summer.
Alma knew a lot about machetes — one of the perks of her summer job, if you could call it that. So, pondering the machete wedged behind her seat, she composed a list of facts in her head, hoping that a mind full of machete facts wouldn't have room for anxiety.
Machete hooks are great for pruning blackberry and blueberry bushes.
She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them as her dad maneuvered the pickup truck from their barrio into the rich part of town.
In the traditional dances of many Latin American countries, men wear machetes as part of the costume: the cumbia in Colombia, capoeira (which, technically, is a martial art) in Brazil, and Mexican Matachines, to name just a few.
Alma hugged her knees tighter and sucked in a deep breath. Her stomach started to churn, and her hands got clammy.
Her dad always said that if he could only have one tool, it would be a machete.
"Papi," she said tentatively, "there's something I need to ask you."
Her father shot her the look — the one that told her she'd better switch into Spanish if she knew what was good for her.
"There's this anthropology class at the community college I want to take. It's after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays," she said in Spanish.
In five days — on August 20, 2007 — Alma would start her junior year of high school.
She had been dreading the day for months. Now that it rapidly approached, she knew of only one way to lessen the pain. If she was fated to waste her time at Gilberton High School every day, she could at least take college classes after school.
One problem: she knew her dad would say no. Wasn't this supposed to be any parent's dream?
"¿Y cómo lo vas a pagar, hija?"
"I've saved enough money to pay the tuition."
"¿De verdad?" He said this with a knowing grin. "Do you know how much those classes cost?"
"I looked online, and —"
"¿En la tarde?" her dad interrupted.
She saw exactly where this was going. Sometimes, Alma couldn't believe how absurd her life was.
"Sí, Papi, in the afternoon, but —"
"But what about your primas?" He chuckled softly. "Will your cousins come to class with you?"
Now he was making fun of her. Fantastic.
"Can't Uncle Rigo watch them for a couple of hours? I mean, he is their father!"
"Your tío Rigo is recovering from a severe back injury, Alma."
Alma considered asking why, if Uncle Rigo was in so much pain, he went out fishing with his buddies every weekend. Remembering that success was her goal, she kept her mouth shut and considered alternative strategies.
"What if I ask Tía Pera to adjust her schedule at the plant?"
"Pera is lucky to have gotten her position back at the plant, Alma. She can't go to her boss asking for special favors."
How could she possibly be lucky to spend eight hours a day as a backup killer at the poultry plant, Alma wondered. Her aunt spent her days gripping a lethally sharp knife in each hand and watching an endless row of headless chickens move slowly by, dangling from their feet. Her job was to chop off the heads of the lucky chickens that made it through the killing machines alive.
Sometimes Alma felt as helpless as those chickens.
Alma was not even seventeen yet, but she had experienced enough to know that there are certain days in a life — moments, even — when the unexpected happens. Just like the swift swipe of a machete, it cuts through your life and leaves behind something entirely new. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes both at once.
Like that morning in eighth grade, when Mrs. King pulled Alma into her office. Mrs. King was the new middle school counselor, and probably the largest small woman Alma had ever met. She was the kind of woman with wrists so narrow that her bones stuck out, but somehow everything about her seemed oversized, all the way down to her deep and resonant laugh. She transferred in halfway through the year, and brought with her the perfect strategy for luring middle schoolers into her office. The smell of unusual homemade sweets wafted through her door: devil's food cake, buttermilk pie, candied pecans, sweet potato cheesecake. No chocolate-chip cookies, no brownies. They were "too ordinary."
The office was filled with bookshelves and the distinctive aroma of roasted peanuts. A degree from Spelman College covered the narrow strip of available wall space, just above a certificate of recognition from the Association of Black Psychologists. Apparently Mrs. King was part of something called the "Disaster Relief Task Force." Strangely, that made Alma feel hopeful.
She sat Alma down and offered her a hefty chunk of homemade peanut brittle.
"I have a plan," she told Alma. "And I know you're gonna like it."
Alma bit off a piece of peanut brittle and let it slowly melt in her mouth as Mrs. King began.
"We're going to find another high school for you — a good one."
The local school, Gilberton High, wasn't a bad school, but it was the kind of place where Latino boys were funneled into classes like Fundamentals of Construction, and the girls wasted their time in glorified home economics classes, carrying around eggs for a week as a way to practice caring for babies.
"Really?" Alma asked, wiping the crumbs away from her mouth. "I mean, is that even possible?"
Until that day, no one had ever told her there might be an alternative.
Mrs. King pulled out a map of north Georgia.
"Show me where you've got family, sweetheart."
When Alma's sticky finger landed on north Atlanta, Mrs. King set the plan into motion. She laid out a future filled with possibilities: top-ranked teachers, advanced placement classes, college admissions counselors, scholarships and university degrees. Alma would live with cousins in Atlanta and attend one of the best high schools in the state — if they could convince her dad.
Mrs. King, Alma soon discovered, was a very patient woman. Or hardheaded. First, she tried reason with Mr. García, bringing a stack of standardized test scores over to Alma's house and sitting at the dining room table with Alma's dad. The conversation went something like this:
Mrs. King: "Are you aware of how unusual it is for a child to score consistently in the ninety-eighth percentile?"
Alma's dad: "Yes, and my Alma will have this score next year again, here with her family in Gilberton."
Mrs. King then suggested that Alma resort to "good ol'-fashioned bribery." Here's how that conversation went:
Alma: "I'll work for you every summer if you let me go, Papi. Te lo prometo. I promise, every single day, all day."
Alma's dad: "Yes, you will, just like your brother, as soon as you turn fifteen."
Alma: "So I can go? To Atlanta?"
Alma's dad: "No, hija. How will you work for me here in Gilberton if you're living over there in Atlanta?"
Apparently Alma was expected to do the work anyway, not only in the summer but every weekend during the school year, too — which, by the way, is why it would be a big stretch to call this her "summer job."
When Mrs. King told her to give it one last try, Alma even tried guilting her dad by bringing up her mother. That conversation was so painful that Alma had blocked it out of her memory. Basically, her dad insisted that Alma's mom would have wanted their family to be together, no matter what. It looked like Alma would be heading to Gilberton High School.
But then came another machete moment.
Alma met Mario at a family party three weeks before the start of high school. He was a recién llegado — recently arrived from their hometown in Mexico. He was probably a third cousin or something since everyone from their hometown seemed to be related. Anyway, he followed her around all night while she was taking care of her little cousins.
The two of them stood and watched boys throw themselves against the mesh walls of the trampoline, and Mario looked so pathetically sad and lonely that Alma decided to make conversation.
"How do you like Gilberton?" she asked in Spanish.
"It's OK," he replied.
That was all he said. Squeaking trampoline springs filled their awkward silence.
"Are you working at Silver Ribbon?" she asked.
He nodded once but said nothing.
Alma already knew that, like almost everyone else who came from her hometown in Mexico, Mario had a job at the chicken plant. Her tía Dolores always scored the newcomers a job there.
"What's your station?" she asked, not having any idea how else to make conversation.
"Killing floor," he said, focusing intently on the pack of boys as they hurled themselves from the trampoline. "Cleanup."
So he spent his days mopping blood and feathers from the killing floor. No wonder he was miserable.
Alma felt so sorry for him that, when he cornered her against the rusty trampoline and tried to kiss her, she let him. He groped at her body with clumsy hands while forcing his tongue into her mouth and swirling it around in swift circles. It felt like she was on some crazy roller coaster ride. To make matters worse, he was chewing Big Red gum, which filled her mouth with an overwhelming burning sensation.
She should have known that the burn would foreshadow worse things to come.
Her dad showed up just as she was disentangling herself from Mario's roving hands. Glaring at Mario, he took Alma by the forearm and pulled her away. They marched directly to his Bronco without exchanging a single word. He opened the back door and pushed her in, not roughly but definitely not gently either.
"Stay here," he grumbled, his eyes burning with anger.
She watched as he slammed the door, trapping her in the car. He went inside and came out moments later with Raúl, Alma's older brother. The two of them found Mario cowering behind the trampoline. To their credit, Alma's dad and brother used only their words to make Mario retreat from the party. As Raúl headed toward the car, her dad went to exchange words with his sister, Alma's tía Dolores. Presumably, he was trying to guard Alma's purity.
Raúl jumped into the passenger seat and looked back at her, grinning wickedly.
"Jesus, Alma," he said. "If you're gonna hook up in front of the entire family, you should at least pick a guy who's willing to throw a punch at your brother."
"I'll keep that in mind," Alma replied.
"That guy was a loser," Raúl said. "And you, my little hermanita, are in deep shit."
No one endured the killing floors for long, but Mario's move was quietly expedited by Tía Dolores. He was long gone by now, probably working construction in another state.
For years, Alma had dreamed that her first kiss would unlock the meaning of that weird English word "swoon." Instead, it resulted in constant mocking from her big brother, several brutal days of nonstop chores, and the need to avoid anything cinnamon flavored for life. To this day, Alma couldn't stand the smell of Big Red.
Here's the miracle, though — the unexpected outcome: After Alma's dad caught Mario kissing her, he was terrified that she would start clandestinely dating the eighteen-year-old. So he called Mrs. King.
Within a week, Alma was packing her bags for Atlanta.
Now, two years later, Alma was back, riding in her dad's crappy work truck through this crappy town and facing, five days from now, the start of her junior year at Gilberton High School, home of the Fighting Red Elephants. How appropriate. Alma's misery at this return was the big red elephant in the room that her father refused to acknowledge.
She was going to make her dad see things her way.
"OK, Dad, listen ..."
Her dad sent a fierce glare in her direction.
She tried again. "Papi, it's just not fair that I have to be the one to fix all of this. Things were going so well for me, Papi, and now I have to come back to Gilberton and probably ruin my chances to get into college, all so that I can take care of my cousins."
Her father opened his mouth to speak, but she pressed on. "Wait, Papi, please let me finish. I just wish you'd work with me to make this situation better for me. If I can take classes at the community college, I just might keep from losing my mind at that lame excuse for a high school."
Her dad jerked to a stop and killed the ignition. He turned to face her squarely, and deep creases took shape across his forehead.
"Alma Julia García-Menendez, I have heard enough from you," he growled angrily. Then he switched into rapid-fire Spanish. "You think I haven't done everything I possibly can to make your life better? You think Gilberton is a 'lame excuse' for a high school? Try growing corn on your dad's small plot of land for prices that have plummeted so far you might as well give it away, while your father spends every week in the city struggling to earn enough money to put some kind of food on the table."
He stopped to catch his breath, but Alma didn't dare say a word.
Her father shook his head slowly and squeezed his eyes shut. "Not once did I complain to my father. Not once did I grumble about making my life better."
He pressed his hand against his forehead, rubbing at the deep creases.
"Where have I gone wrong, Alma? Tell me, what have I done to give you the impression that this life is all about you?"
Alma said nothing. She just hugged her knees tighter, wanting to disappear.
Her dad took in a long breath and closed his eyes.
"You, Alma, are not a child," he said softly. "You are a sixteen-year-old woman, and you need to start acting like one. You will come directly home from school every afternoon to take care of your cousins. End of discussion."
He restarted the truck, and they drove in heavy silence.
He turned off the four-lane highway into the manicured Lakeshore Heights neighborhood. They pulled into a steep driveway leading to a stately colonial home. He lightly touched her arm, pulled the machete from behind her seat, and stepped out of the truck.
"I'll get started on the lawn," he said. "Why don't you take a few minutes to finish your coffee and then prune the roses here in the front?"
Maybe for a couple of years, she had been lucky. But her luck had run out.
* * *
Damn, it was hot.
Running in Georgia in August was brutal. It sort of felt like running through the steam room at the club, but without a cold water dispenser nearby.
Sprinting toward his house, heart pounding and legs aching, Evan fixed his focus on the crest of the hill. When he reached the top, he lengthened his gait and shifted into an easy jog. A vaguely familiar red pickup truck was parked in his driveway, with two lean, tanned legs dangling from the open passenger window. They wore black Chuck Taylor high-tops that swung to a slow rhythm, but no music was coming from the truck.
Evan wanted to meet the girl attached to those legs.
He heard the sound of metal crunching against metal and then saw that the truck was beginning to roll backward, toward the street. The legs flailed, and he heard the girl calling out as she clamored over to the driver's seat.
Against his better judgment, Evan ran toward the truck, which was slowly gaining speed.
He saw the girl balancing a coffee mug precariously with one hand as she banged the other against the steering wheel.
"¡Es mierda! You are such a useless piece of crap!"
The truck began to move fast.
"Pull the emergency brake!" Evan yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth.
She swung around to look at him and gasped.
"Where is it?"
How was he supposed to know? He'd never even been inside a Ford truck.
"Just push the foot break!" he called out.
"I can't find it!"
The truck had almost reached the street. Its momentum would slow on the level road, but it would soon hit a steep downhill slope and head directly toward the Crawfords' house, with the girl still inside.
Evan ran faster.
"Open the door," he yelled.
"No!" she replied. "Are you nuts?"
"Let me in."
When the truck hit the street, the door swung open and Evan flung himself toward it. Grasping the window frame, he slid into the seat. His foot found the emergency brake and pressed down. The movement felt familiar, just like sliding into a goal, except that he had landed on a girl and knocked the coffee out of her hand.
The truck came to an abrupt stop, and Evan jumped out. The girl bolted out behind him, escaping just before the coffee made it to the edge of her shorts. She whipped around, swiping at her rear.
Evan watched, feeling both annoyed and, he had to admit, entertained by the jerky motions of her coffee-avoidance dance.
Her cheeks flushed a deep red as her dark eyes met his.
"Sorry," she said. "I don't drive."
Excerpted from Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt. Copyright © 2015 Marie Marquardt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Machete Moments,
3. Night Swimming,
5. Dream in the Desert,
7. Red Elephant,
8. Fire Alarm,
10. Snow White,
12. Too Sweet,
14. The Clock Is Wrong,
17. Sins of the Father,
18. Terrora Dam,
19. St. Jude, Plead for Us,
20. Voluntary Removal,
21. Fishing Without a License,
23. Flowering Cactus,
24. Sweet Georgia Rain,
26. Broken Parts,
About the Author,