Hi! I don’t know if you know me, but I’m Astha Singh, Co-president of the Wheatley Book Club, and I have a book that I must recommend to you: Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher. This was a great book to read as the first club book of the year. Don’t believe me? What if I told you it is listed as one of Best Books of 2020 according to the School Library Journal? Now you have to believe me.
Sanctuary is a young adult (YA) dystopian novel about the life of an undocumented family in the United States and is narrated by the oldest daughter, Vali. This novel reveals the struggles, risks, and hopes this family experiences through just to survive. I absolutely fell in love with this book, and I highly recommend everyone to read it.
However, the writer is just as amazing as the book! We, the Wheatley Book Club, were lucky enough to have a virtual Google Meet with Paola Mendoza! Yes, we actually got to meet her! Mendoza is a very accomplished person; she is an artist, a writer, an activist, an award-winning filmmaker, and one of the founding members of the 2016 Women’s March. Like, wow; I aspire to be her one day.
We had so many questions prepared for her, and if I were to list all of them here, it would take forever…but don’t worry—I picked the best questions for this article. We, of course, started by asking the must-ask question: “What inspired you to write the book, and why for young adults?” She replied by saying that the novel was a plea for people to care about immigration and the struggle of illegal immigrants. She specifically wrote a YA book because she looks to the youth to fix this problem. While she could have made this a film instead, as she is a filmmaker as well, she decided not to because filming would take too much time, and she wanted it to come out before the 2016 election.
With the pandemic going on, we wanted to know if she thinks that the pandemic is influencing the path that the United States is heading towards. Her response was, “Unfortunately, I think that the U.S. is failing pretty badly during this pandemic… The fact that I have been teaching my 2nd grader for nine months now [shows how much the U.S. is failing].” And she is not experiencing this alone. Since school became virtual during the second half of last year, I have to teach my younger brother and let me tell you, it is a lot of work to teach younger children who just don’t want to listen to you. And if you are like me and don’t have a lot of patience, this was incredibly difficult to deal with. Mendoza said that “we’re going to need you to help us through the future that lies ahead,” because she believes that our generation will “beautifully build back [the country] from the ashes.”
We were curious about how readers typically react to Sanctuary and if there were any negative reactions. She said, “I have seen a couple negative reactions” because people said that her book was too political. But overall, there was a really positive response, and an especially powerful response from undocumented communities because the novel really did do a great job in capturing the resilience and experience of an undocumented immigrant (another reason to go read the book). However, even though the power of the resilience of an undocumented immigrant is inspirational, it is also very painful to write about. Mendoza shared, “[T]he art that I create is very dark [and] emotional.” So, while Sanctuary is dark and very authentic, it is also hopeful. As she said, “[h]ope is a very strong, powerful word that we have to protect and nurture; it is the thing that moves mountains. It is the thing that moves us in the darkest of times.”
Last, but certainly not least, we definitely had to ask her if she was writing another book! She replied by saying, “I hope to be! We have a second book planned out [and] mapped out…[m]y expectations were set low because of the pandemic, but it was reviewed well. We are waiting for the editor to give the green flag.” The entire book club is so excited to see the next book come out, because we will definitely read it right away! But that’s not all folks… drumroll please… There might be a movie for Sanctuary coming out! Yes, a movie! I can’t believe it either! So stay tuned for more updates, and be sure to read the book!