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Where I Belong

Where I Belong
Coming Soon
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Coming Soon
Lerner Publishing Group

Limited ***

5.5 X 8.3 in
264 pg

YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Social Themes / Emigration & Immigration
YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Social Themes / Prejudice & Racism
YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Romance / Multicultural & Interracial
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In the Margins: Best Books for Teens — 2022 — Winner
Junior Library Guild Selection — 2021 — Winner
Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year — 2021 — Winner
Pura Belpré Award — 2022 — Commended
Skipping Stones Book Award — 2022 — Short-listed
Whitney Awards — 2021 — Short-listed
Writers' League of Texas — 2022 — Winner


A Pura Belpré Honor Book

An immigrant teen fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros "Millie" Vargas knows her life is about to change. She has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she's needed. She is disturbed by what's happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn't see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She's just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, 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. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers' good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler's son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.


"Millie Vargas, who would rather observe the behavior of sea turtles in their natural habitat, takes care of three younger siblings after school (and whenever she is needed), while her mother works for a high-powered Corpus Christi family, the Wheelers. When Mr. Charles Wheeler, a Senate hopeful, reveals some personal details of his 'model immigrant' housekeeper's family at a protest against the separation of children from their families at the border, Millie's family is trolled online and become the target of a hate crime. Millie navigates her anger at the Wheeler family, who are privileged enough to openly protest injustice without fear, while slowly developing a crush and falling in love with the oldest son, Charlie, and preparing to tell her mother that she has received a full scholarship at a top college and will be leaving home. Mickelson, who, like Millie, immigrated from Guatemala as an infant, has crafted an analytical and emotionally charged first-person narrative, and explores with a deft and wise hand the complexities of a budding relationship with a person of a different class and the conflict between upward mobility and family loyalty. The perspicacious eyes and heart of Millie, who respects her hardworking mother and mourns her father, who died too young, bring the reader in touch with an honorable family who defy stereotypes, transcend low expectations, and who know they belong here. VERDICT A fabulous debut, not to be missed. There is truth on every page—about love, restraint, and integrity."—starred, School Library JournalJournal

"Cast into the political firestorm of an aspiring U.S. senator's campaign, a Guatemalan immigrant teen grapples with her newfound notoriety.

It's the end of Milagros Vargas' senior year of high school in Corpus Christi, Texas. So far, aspiring marine biologist Millie's accepted a spot at Stanford, although her mom doesn't yet know this. As Millie became the second caretaker of her family after her father's death, her mom expanded her housekeeping job for the Wheelers, an affluent White family. For Millie, Mr. Wheeler's campaign for the U.S. Senate means her mom will be away from her family more, caring for the Wheelers' young daughter. Then, the senatorial candidate highlights Millie and her family as examples of exemplary immigrants during a campaign speech, resulting in public support as well as hostility from internet trolls and anonymous haters. When someone sets the Vargas home on fire, they have no choice but to accept the offer to temporarily move in with the Wheelers, even as Millie finds herself inexplicably drawn toward their son, Charlie. Setting her story against the backdrop of a nameless, anti-immigrant White House administration, Mickelson does a remarkable job of plunging into complex issues with tremendous nuance. Millie's acquired U.S. citizenship, after arriving as an undocumented asylum seeker, further complicates the discourse, raising stark questions around common debates about which immigrants 'deserve' to be welcomed. Full of thought-provoking conversations, messy answers, and lots of heart, this novel's a quiet knockout.

Utterly compelling."—starred, Kirkus ReviewsJournal

"Millie Vargas is a standout high school senior in Corpus Christi, Texas, whose family came to the United States from Guatemala as asylum seekers when she was a baby; she cares for her three younger siblings while her widowed mother works as a housekeeper. Millie is now a citizen, but her world is turned upside down when her mother's employer, who is running for U.S. Senate, outs Millie's previously undocumented status to the media while stating his case for supporting immigration. This revelation makes the Vargas family a target of xenophobic actions, with tragic results. Mickelson's novel explores the devastating effect that a seemingly inconsequential action, done for political gain, can have. Millie confronts situations that would be difficult for even the most resilient of adults to face, and she must decide whether to shield herself and her family from further attacks or accept heavy responsibility and public scrutiny as an advocate for immigrants who do not have the benefit of the protections she holds as a citizen. The reader is drawn into Millie's heartbreaking inner monologue as the story pointedly cultivates informed empathy for the diversity of immigrant experiences, while emphasizing the importance of humility for those who stand as allies."—The Horn Book MagazineJournal

"Milagros 'Millie' Vargas came from Guatemala as a baby with her asylum-seeking parents. In 2018, she is a senior in high school and a naturalized citizen. The last thing she wants is to be the poster girl for 'good immigrants,' yet she finds herself in that role, first by happenstance and, much later, by choice. Much of the plot turns around the warm relationship between her now- widowed mother and her mother's employers, Mr. and Dr. Wheeler, and their son, Charlie. Mr. Wheeler is running for Congress, and he thinks nothing of using Millie and her mother as examples of immigrants contributing to their society. The Wheelers mean well, but they don't consider the potential repercussions, and it's only when Millie sees that there are other examples of people who have more to lose than she does but are willing to speak does she find a place for herself and become willing to accept the risks involved. The novel solidly presents issues DREAMers face, such as being separated from their families, in an appealing, authentic story featuring engaging, realistic characters."—BooklistJournal

Author Bio

Marcia Mickelson was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as an infant. She attended high school in New Jersey and then graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in American Studies. She is the author of five novels including Star Shining Brightly, The Huaca, and Where I Belong, and she is the winner of the Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Honor. She lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.