Atlanta author pens Romeo-Juliet novel with political echoes

Marie Marquardt. With fellow authors Una LaMarche, Elizabeth Lenhard and Katie M. Stout. 1-1:45 p.m. Sept. 6. Free. Teen Stage, AJC Decatur Book Festival. Go to for directions.

We’ve all met someone like Evan, an over-privileged prepster and one of the heroes of “Dream Things True” by Decatur writer Marie Marquardt.

Less well-known is Alma, the novel’s ambitious Latina whose plans for college are derailed when her family is deported.

The star-crossed romance between the two Georgia teenagers provides the heart of Marquardt’s young adult tale. It’s her first novel, but not the first time she’s written about the immigrant community.

A scholar in residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marquardt earned a doctorate in the sociology of religion while visiting the churches of Georgia’s Mexican immigrants. At the same time, she became an advocate for the families of the undocumented.

She is co-author of the nonfiction work “Living Illegal: the Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration” and co-founder of El Refugio, a hospitality house for families of the inmates at the Stewart Detention Center, in Lumpkin, where more than a thousand immigrants are incarcerated.

Marquardt, 43, will speak about the story 1-1:45 p.m. Sunday on the Teen Stage at the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

She recently discussed how her life has informed her fiction.

About the “real” Alma:

She was a composite of many of the kids I have come to know over the years. Every piece of the story that has an immigrant element to it is true. All the things that happened to Alma and her family are things that happened to people I was doing research with.

About toning down the sexy parts of the book (and, in the end, advocating chastity) when you have four children in the house, ages 5, 10, 11 and 14:

When you have people in your household reading it, it makes you very thoughtful about what messages you’re communicating. … I want to highlight how intense the moment is when you’re seeing the girl you’re attracted to, and (write about) not jumping right in to the next thing.

About combining social commentary and young-adult romance:

Talking to them through literature is a great way to get young adults talking about broader issues. I don’t want to tell them what to think about policy questions, but I think it’s important for them to know what’s happening in their own communities.

About the climate of the current debate on immigration:

Over the course of the past seven years, we’ve seen a big change in public perception of undocumented immigrants. Most Americans, state by state, want to see some sort of federal immigration reform.

On being a member of We Need Diverse Books, an organization dedicated to bringing a wider variety of subject matter and communities into children’s literature.

A quarter of American high school students are Latina or Latino. That’s not reflected in our books. … I wrote this story because I wanted to write a really human story about a group of kids that I don’t think our literature is paying enough attention to.

On reaction from the Latino community:

One reader said, “Seeing the stories of my own family and my own community be recognized in a novel like this was almost like being recognized by the universe itself.”