A powerful look at life as an undocumented immigrant that moved me emotionally, even if there were parts of the story that could have been executed better.
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.
This book impressed me. Though I’ve heard a lot of new stories about the trials of life as an undocumented immigrant in the US, especially in reactionary areas of the South, this book drove home the personal struggles of such a life. Things I’d never considered, like not being able to get a driver’s license or apply for scholarships, were put front-and-center, giving the story an emotional edge.
However, there is more to this book than its insight into the life of people like Alma, one of the protagonists. Romance plays a major role in the plot, something I simultaneously enjoyed and was frustrated by.
Alma was an amazing protagonist. She’s strong and independent and has her semi-tragic backstory without falling completely into the Strong Female Character stereotype that seems to dominate YA today. Her thoughts were realistic; I was empathetic with her frustrations. Her culture was clearly apparent throughout the story—it never felt like she was a white character just given an “ethnic” last name to fit the story. I loved her voice and I wanted to see her succeed in life.
Evan was an interesting character, but I was never totally sold on him. He’s a great guy—a soccer star, a good student, and a rich white boy without being a jerk. His family is monumentally screwed-up and hiding it to save face, and he’s trapped in the middle. I loved seeing how his relationship with Alma forced him to wake up to the problems in his life and the failings of his family members.
Unfortunately, Evan’s voice didn’t 100% work for me. He felt a little too perfect, like his thoughts weren’t actually his own, but the kind of thoughts women wish guys had. I wanted a bit more complexity from him, and I wished that his character was able to stand on its own without Alma’s influence.
There were a lot of secondary characters, but most of them were done well enough that they brought life to the story. Whit, in particular, ended up being one of the most fascinating characters in the book, as well as Mrs. King. I wanted to see more of a couple of characters, but them staying in minor roles didn’t ruin the book for me or anything.
I’m really torn about the romance in this book. From page one, there is definite instalove, the bane of every reader’s existence. Evan’s sudden interest in Alma—obsessing over how pretty she is and instantly reading her facial expressions—was one of the main things that made his character feel unrealistic. Alma took a little longer to warm up to Evan, but it was still only a few chapters before they were officially at the “we should date, like, right now” stage.
Past the beginning of the book, however, the romance actually develops, becoming layered and complicated in a way that isn’t exactly common in YA contemporaries. Alma and Evan’s relationship was cute and positive. I loved their banter, and I believed that they honestly had feelings for each other. But it was still really annoying to think back to the beginning of the book and realize there was basically no build-up to those feelings.
The plot of Dream Things True is both lighthearted and gut-wrenching. There is a lot of humor in this book, and the overall mood of the story is positive and hopeful. Nevertheless, this book doesn’t pull punches, and when hell starts to rain down on Alma’s family, things turn emotional extremely quickly. The balance of humor and seriousness was impressive, and the pacing was just about perfect.
Still, the story kinda lost me at the 3/4 mark. The plot ended up going cliche and unnecessary places. Still, the ending tied everything back together and presented a powerful message, making me glad that I stuck with the book.
I loved that Dream Things True didn’t just focus on undocumented immigrants. Rape culture, white privilege, and racism are all explored throughout the plot. The plot line that dealt with rape culture was especially well done, in my opinion, and left me shaking with rage and sadness at the same time (and created a really surprising ending).
If you’re looking for a book with powerful social commentary and you can deal with a bit of instalove, Dream Things True is a must-read. It’s romantic, funny, and though-provoking, and I can honestly say that it has changed the way that I look at undocumented immigrants.