Jennifer de Leon wanted to offer a different perspective on the immigration “crisis” at the southern border of the United States, so she wrote "Borderless."
What was your inspiration behind your most recent book?
In the summer of 2018, when I was pregnant with my second son, I could not keep my eyes off screens that showed children being torn away from their parents, especially mothers, at the U.S./Mexico border. It pained me not to join others at rallies and protest the “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy which affected many Central American people. My people. For me, the news was personal. Both my parents are from Guatemala. They moved to the United States in the 1970s in search of a better life, like so many immigrants do. Although I could not march in the streets in 2018, I decided to begin writing this novel. It was my own way of marching.
What does "Reading with Pride" mean to you?
In many ways, “Reading with Pride” reminds me of reading without borders, or reading with a strong sense of self, no matter the latitude or longitude in which you find yourself. Everyone, but especially young readers, should be able to find versions of themselves in stories. Or, as the famous educator Rudine Sims Bishop put it, “Children need books that are mirrors that allow them to see themselves and their own experiences, windows that they can look through to see other worlds that they can then compare to their own, and sliding glass doors that allow them to enter other worlds.”
Why do you feel representation of a variety of people is so important when it comes to writing books?
By allowing readers to see and engage with a variety of people, we are opening up possibilities of being, showcasing different ways of living. The more that readers (especially young readers) are exposed to diversity in its truest sense (diversity of identities, including gender and sexual orientation), the less likely they are to view differences as negative, or something to hide. We can be different, and we can celebrate these differences.
Tell us a little more about the book and why you decided to write it.
"Borderless" tells the story of 16-year-old Maya Silva who lives in Guatemala City with her mom. When we first meet Maya, she loves life — she attends a competitive fashion school in the capital, hangs out with her best friend and her new love interest, and she has a chance to win first place in the school’s upcoming fashion show, something she and her mother have dreamed about for ages. Life is good. But as Maya prepares her pieces for the upcoming show, and her relationship with her boyfriend develops, she gets caught up in the prickly net of the local gang. Suddenly, Maya and her mother must flee the country in the dead of night. They make it to the Mexico-U.S. border, but their journey is far from over.
One of the main reasons I wrote this book was to offer a different perspective on the immigration “crisis” at the southern border of the United States. I imagined a young girl, a teenager, and I thought about what her life was like in Guatemala. I wanted to show a character who wasn’t dreaming of moving north, but someone who was happy in her country. When we see images of caravans of migrants inching their way toward the border, it is easy to forget that every single one of them has a story, a reason for crossing. Many times they don’t want to come to the United States; it is that they must in order to survive.
What can fans expect from your book?
It is YA, so fans can expect a teen character, one who is ambitious and flawed. There is boy drama, best friend drama, mom drama, and of course, a competitive lead up to the fashion show. It is a page-turner (I hope!) and has some unexpected twists and turns. The journey to the U.S. is only part of the story, readers will see.
What's up next for you in the bookish world?
Thank you for asking! I am finishing another Young Adult novel, tentatively titled False Light. It is a historical novel set in 1960s Guatemala during the country’s Civil War (1960-1996) and tells the story about an 18-year-old young woman named Luz Morales who is fighting as a guerrilla soldier and searching for her lost twin brother, Elian, who was kidnapped by the repressive Army at a student rally.
Many readers do not know about the role the United States played in Guatemala’s Civil War. Thus, very few connections are being made between the current wave of Central American immigrants and the root causes steeped in US foreign policy. As an author and a former public-school humanities teacher, I long to provide a book that can shed light on this part of the world, this part of history.
I also have two picture books coming soon.