After my third son was born in 2005, I started writing a women’s fiction book called Watching From the Sky. It was about a young teacher named Sarah whose mother passed away and whose father fell apart, neglecting every aspect of his life, including parenting. Sarah moved back home to take care of her little brother.
The book focused on Sarah’s relationship with her brother and taking care of him while trying to get her father to get the help he needed. It was set in San Antonio, TX and the title came from a favorite place that Steven and Sarah liked to go to get away from everything. The Tower of the Americas is a 750-ft tower in downtown San Antonio. It was Steven’s favorite place. There, they could leave all of their worries and troubles below as they ascended to the top.
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I submitted the book to several agents, but none of them were interested. An author acquaintance read it and gave me some feedback—rewrite it as a young adult novel. No! I thought, I don’t write young adult. So, I put the manuscript away for many years and began writing something different. I wrote The Huaca, a young adult novel, and as it turns out, I do write young adult!
I fell in love with young adult fiction. That is all I wanted to read and all I wanted to write. So, I decided that I would rewrite Watching From the Sky as a young adult novel. I renamed it Her Little Brother and made a heavy amount of changes. Some of those changes included a point of view change from third person to first person and a tense change from past tense to present tense. I wanted to give the story a sense of immediacy and a more intimate portrayal of Sarah.
The book’s focus was still on Sarah’s relationship with Steven. She was like a parent to him, and the plot of the book was Sarah helping him navigate the troubles of childhood. But, something still wasn’t right. Sarah was now a teenager still taking care of her little brother and helping her father get help for his alcoholism.
It felt like the book was just about Sarah taking care of everyone around her, but there was no path for growth for Sarah herself. In the midst of trying to figure out what Sarah’s path was, I put the book aside again. I wrote Where I Belong and figured I would bring Sarah back at a later time and try again.
After the release of Where I Belong, I knew it was time to bring Sarah back and give her the treatment she deserved. I renamed it The Weight of Everything and focused on figuring out the right path for her. I wanted to take away the role of having her trying to help her father and Steven and figure out a way for Sarah to help herself through her own grief of losing her mother. My agent suggested an art project for Sarah.
Then, my husband played a U2 song called “Mothers of the Disappeared” which was inspired by Bono’s experiences meeting women whose children were forcibly disappeared by dictators in Argentina, El Salvador, and Chile. The song was a tribute to their cause. At a U2 concert, the mothers came up on stage and held pictures of their missing children. This inspired me to devise Sarah’s art project.
I started thinking about my own relationship with my mother. Gratefully, my mother is still alive, and I don’t have the kind of regrets Sarah has about her mom. She wishes that she’d listened more to her mother and the things that were important to her. As Sarah looks back at moments when her mother wanted to have important discussions about culture and family history, Sarah wasn’t interested. I remember similar moments as a teenager not being interested in conversations about culture and history.
Sarah’s interest lies in French Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt. When she was alive, her mother, Viviana, urged Sarah to study artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. There is a Diego Rivera print hanging in her mother’s office called Gloriosa Victoria. The original work is a mural which measures 8 ft x 15 ft. It depicts the events surrounding the 1954 CIA coup that overthrew the Guatemalan president. A corner of the painting was completed by Guatemalan artist Rina Lazo and displays the Guatemalan flag. At the center of the painting, are CIA director Allen Dulles and his brother John Foster Dulles who was the Secretary of State. They are exchanging money with Carlos Castillo Armas who the U.S. would prop up as dictator after the coup. I now have a small print of the painting hanging over my desk.
Viviana’s grandfather left Guatemala during this time and moved to Mexico where he married and settled down. So, Viviana’s family ancestry is both Mexican and Guatemalan.
It isn’t until her mother’s death that Sarah finally begins to take an interest in her mother’s interests which includes the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. She finds photographs taken by her great-grandfather and uses them to depict drawings for her art project. She becomes inspired by the political activism of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and brings a petition to her art show. She asks the attendees of the art show to sign a petition to rename the Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. She found the petition in her mother’s files and wants to honor her by continuing her cause.
It took eighteen years for this book to find its proper ending. I dedicated it to my mother who has shared her family history and the history of her country with me. Talking about Guatemalan history and listening to my mom’s stories is one of my favorite ways to spend time with her now.
Meet the author
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Marcia Argueta 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 a winner of the Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Honor. She lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.
About The Weight of Everything
It’s been six months since Sarah’s mom died. Three months since her dad fell apart. Sarah has left her fine arts boarding school to take care of her dad and her little brother, and now she’s trying to hold everything together at home while adjusting to the local public high school.
With her dad’s drinking and spending getting out of control, Sarah struggles to make sure that the bills are paid, that her brother is fed and safe, that her dad’s grief won’t crush them all. She has no time for art, unless she’s cranking out a piece to sell online for some grocery money. And she definitely doesn’t have the time or the emotional energy to find out if her sweet, handsome classmate, David Garza, could be more than a friend.
But then a school project prompts Sarah to delve into her mom’s Mexican and Guatemalan roots. As she learns more about this side of her heritage, Sarah starts to understand her mom better—and starts to face her own grief. When she stumbles upon a long-buried piece of history that mattered deeply to her mom, Sarah realizes she can’t carry her pain silently anymore. She has to speak up, and she can’t do it alone.
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/02/2023
Age Range: 12+
Filed under: Guest Post