Border Child will tug at your heart

By Allison Marlow
Posted 11/2/18

This is a story about love.

But in today’s political climate, when immigrants are vilified daily, author Michel Stone knows it will be hard to convince some people of that.

But it is. It is …

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Border Child will tug at your heart

Posted

This is a story about love.

But in today’s political climate, when immigrants are vilified daily, author Michel Stone knows it will be hard to convince some people of that.

But it is. It is a moment to see a desperate choice made by a desperate mother as she tries to give her daughter the best life she can. It is a chance to look beyond the rhetoric and misinformation and see a family very much caught in an impossible situation.

And it is heartbreaking.

Stone says the theme of her new novel, Border Child, is universal.

“It is the story of a parent’s love and the extremes to which a parent would go to make a better life for their child,” she said.

In Border Child, young parents Hector and Lilia live in extreme poverty in a small Mexican town. They would do anything to give their daughter a better future and set their sights on crossing into the United States.

On the trip over, they hand their baby over to a smuggler who promises to move her across the border and reunite with the parents a day later.

The smuggler and the baby never appear and the parents spend the next three years desperately searching for answers as well as struggling each day with their decision.

“This is a story of good people being knocked to ground due to their own choices and things beyond their control and then having to figure out how to pick themselves up and take the next step,” Stone said. “It’s what we all have to do at some point or another in our lives.”

Stone stumbled upon the idea for her story after striking up a conversation with an immigrant couple who were working on a farm near her South Carolina home. The couple told her their own child was smuggled across the border by a stranger. They simply handed over the tiny infant and hoped they would see him again.

“That nugget of the story got into my brain and I could not quit thinking about it,” Stone said. “It haunted me. I could not fathom doing that.”

From that spark, the novel grew.

She returned to the farm and interviewed the couple for the book to develop a working knowledge of the struggles many of the immigrant families face when they decide to cross or not cross.

“They were so grateful and excited to talk to me. They put me in contact with friends and relatives and suddenly I had a whole network of folks who had crossed the border who were willing to tell me their stories,” she said.

The book is fiction and not based on any single family’s story. Stone also traveled to Central America to understand the places these families were fleeing.

While there, a woman in Honduras asked Stone to take her son back to the U.S. with her.

“The gang violence was so bad and this was a very poor family who wanted to give their child a fighting chance,” she said. She recalled how during her visit the mother pulled a black banana from her pocket, a donation from the local market, to give her child to eat. It was his meal for the day.

“I keep his picture on my writing desk to remember whose stories I’m telling,” Stone said. “That experience, as much as we try to read and be empathetic, there is nothing like traveling to another place and immersing yourself in that culture to broaden one’s lens.”

Still, she worries that politics will creep into the discussion over Border Child. At one book signing a man in the audience asked how she felt comfortable telling the stories of immigrants when she lived comfortably in South Carolina.

It was a fair question, she said. And she answered him from her heart.

“You’re right, I’ve never had to sneak across the border or live that life. What I do know is that nobody on this planet escapes birth or death. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter. I’ve held hands with someone as they’ve died, and as they’ve given birth. I’ve experienced a realm of human emotions. While I have not experienced what my characters have, I have experienced great joy, hope and disappointment,” she said.

“Because of that if I can create a character with who my readers can empathize, to which they can say, ‘I’ve felt like that,’ isn’t that my job? To make reader who thinks they are different than the protagonist eventually identify with them by the end?

“I feel like if I can illuminate ways we as humans are more alike than different than I am doing something that matters,” Stone said.