Where I Belong: an Interview with Marcia Argueta Mickelson

The new YA novel Where I Belong follows Guatemalan American high school senior Millie Vargas as she struggles to balance her family’s needs with her own ambitions. Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate and her mother’s employer, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

Read on to hear how author Marcia Argueta Mickelson started writing, which authors influence her work, and more! Don’t forget to download the FREE discussion guide.

Who is your favorite author?

I love Jane Austen. She is the original YA author. She writes about falling in love. She created my favorite type of love story- the love/hate relationship that blossoms into love when she wrote Pride and Prejudice.

When did you start writing?

I was in middle school when I started my first novel. I wrote it on notebook paper. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a story going on in my head. I always had a story going on in my head and would fall asleep every night thinking about it. I started to write my second novel in high school. I didn’t finish it until 10 years later. It was when my boys were very young that I decided to write more seriously. I finished the manuscript, shelved it, and began the next one and then the next one.

How important do you think it is for children to love reading?

I loved reading as a child. I would go to the library a lot. I remember reading for sheer pleasure, and this was something that I lost during high school up until I graduated from college. After college, I once again picked up my love of reading. I spent a lot of time reading to my kids, taking them to the library, and checking out tons of books. We had this weird tradition of going to libraries in cities we were visiting or vacationing in. We just loved checking out different libraries. Now, as a second grade teacher, I try to instill the love of reading in my students.

Why do you enjoy writing young adult fiction?

I started out writing women’s inspirational fiction, but now all I want to write is young adult fiction. That is almost exclusively all I read anymore. There is something so fantastic about young love—it’s a powerful and sweet love. I fell in love with my husband at nineteen. It is so fun to explore this type of young love as a reader and as a writer.

Why is this book so important to you?

I think young immigrants in the US have to navigate a difficult journey in which they don’t exactly know where they belong. They were born in a different country, but many of them don’t know that country. Their only home may be the United States. Even though they live in the United States, they may not feel like they exactly belong here. That is how Millie felt, and that is how I felt growing up as well. There exists the feeling that as immigrants, we have to work twice as hard to prove that we deserve to be here and that we deserve the opportunities in front of us. There may be a sense of shame that we did something wrong by merely existing. I wanted to show all of these conflicting emotions through my character, Millie Vargas.

How important a role do you think young people play in the national discourse?

I spent a week on bus with over 50 youth traveling over one thousand miles from Texas to Illinois, and what I discovered is that today’s youth are amazing! They’re smart, kind, hard-working, and fun. They look out for each other. They have such an important role to play in today’s society. They have such a stake in it as well. I am continually impressed with youth who step forward, are vocal, and take a stand. I was impressed with the Parkland youth who took a stand against gun violence, started a movement, and were heard! I was impressed with the many youth who walked out of school when their gay teacher was fired. I wanted to create, in Millie, a character who even though she was afraid and hesitant, she made the decision to stand up against injustice and be heard.

Teacher Resources

Open dialogues with this free discussion guide!

Author Video

Praise and Further Reading for Where I Belong

★”Full of thought-provoking conversations, messy answers, and lots of heart, this novel’s a quiet knockout. Utterly compelling.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

“In Milagros Vargas, author Marcia Argueta Mickelson has brilliantly captured a voice for our times.” —Diana López, author of Lucky Luna

“A thought-provoking book. Filled with courage, Millie will show us the way to a kinder, more compassionate way of being in the world.”—Guadalupe García McCall, Pura Belpré Award-winning author

“A great addition to YA contemporary collections, this book would also provide fuel for discussion in high school Government/Civics classrooms.” — Susan the Librarian

Read Marcia’s post on the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox!

Connect with Marcia

Click here to find more author and illustrator interviews on the Lerner blog!

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