The new YA novel The Weight of Everything strikes the perfect balance between grief, romance, and self-exploration through the eyes of one girl’s personal experience. Six months ago, Sarah’s beloved mother died in a car accident. Her dad fell apart, and Sarah had to leave her fine arts boarding school to take care of him and her little brother. She’s sure she doesn’t have the time or emotional energy for a relationship with her sweet, handsome classmate, David Garza. But when a school project leads her to delve into her mother’s Mexican and Guatemalan roots and rediscover her love of art, her perspective shifts.
Today award-winning author Marcia Argueta Mickelson joins us to discuss how she relates to Sarah’s story, her inspiration, and her creative process. Read on to download two free educator resources!
What helps you get inspiration for book ideas?
I can find inspiration anywhere—from someone I see on an elevator or a personal experience or something I see in the news. When I first get the idea for a story, I like to just think about it for a long time before I write anything down or type anything. I go through the characters in my mind and think of a few plot points. I like to do this when I’m driving or doing yardwork. I like to have my hands busy and let my mind work through a story. When I’ve worked through most of the story in my head, then I am ready to start writing. Sometimes I pick a favorite scene that I’m really excited about and start working on that first.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while researching or writing the book?
While researching my book, I was very surprised to learn about Frida Kahlo’s activism concerning Guatemala. The US overthrew the Guatemalan president in 1954 and put in his place a dictator—the first of a long line of dictators who were responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 Guatemalans. Shortly after this occurred, Frida Kahlo, who was severely ill, protested against the coup. Even though she was Mexican, was living in Mexico, and was near the end of her life, she spoke out against what the US did to Guatemala.
What was your inspiration for the book?
I was watching a show on PBS years ago, and I was touched by a story of a brother and sister. I was very impressed by the relationship between the older sister and her younger brother. She was very nurturing, and it made me imagine what it would be like if she had to help take care of him, if their parents were unable to do so. My story then came from that perspective. I imagined maybe the mother had passed away and the father was around but unable to parent them.
Where does the title come from?
It feels like Sarah has the weight of the world on her young shoulders. She not only has to take care of herself, she has to completely take care of her little brother. She is responsible for making all of the meals and cleaning the house. Sarah also feels responsible for her father, who is suffering from severe grief and refuses to get help. On top of what she has to deal with at home, she also has to get through junior year at a new school that feels overwhelming to her. She has to somehow pay for groceries, so she runs an Etsy shop where she draws portraits for pay and has to find time to complete these demanding projects on top of everything else she has to do.
How did you develop the rest of the book?
Originally, the book was meant to be a women’s fiction book. Sarah was an adult and was a teacher. David was a coach at the school where she’d just started working. She had come home to help take care of Steven. I wrote the entire book in third person, past tense. And then, I fell in love with YA, and I felt like I needed to rewrite the book entirely. Sarah and David became high school juniors in this new version. I added the art project and Sarah’s desire to connect with her mother. I rewrote it into first person, present tense, and wrote a completely different ending.
Do you relate to Sarah in any way?
When Sarah’s mom was alive, Sarah wanted her to put up art prints of French artists, took French class even though her mother wanted her to take Spanish, and hoped to one day visit France to see all the French art she was obsessed with. Sarah’s mom, a professor of Latin American studies, tried to tell Sarah about Guatemala, where her great-grandfather was born, and tried to explain some of its relevant history. Now that Sarah’s mom is gone, Sarah regrets not paying more attention to the subjects that were so important to her. When I was a teenager, I didn’t really take the time to understand anything about the history of my native country. It was as an adult that I began having conversations with my mother about the history of Guatemala, including the atrocities that occurred there.
How are you different from Sarah?
Sarah is so courageous. First, she takes the role of caretaker in her home when her father is unable to. She pretty much has to do everything at home. I remember at that age, I did very little of what Sarah has to do. I cannot imagine taking on her responsibilities at such a young age. Second, she finds the courage to stand up to her school administration in telling the story of the Guatemala coup during her art show. I certainly did not have that type of courage at her age.
Share the Official Book Trailer
Free Educator Resources
Use this discussion guide to encourage in-depth conversations about character, activism, and art.
Share this timeline of events with your students to help them better understand the historical context of the U.S. overthrow of the Guatemalan President.
Connect with the author
Marcia Mickelson was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as an infant. Her work includes Where I Belong, for which she won a Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Honor. She graduated from Brigham Young University and lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.
Photo Credit: Rachel Meldrum
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