Students Want to Know: Bettina Restrepo

March 8th is the official release date for Bettina Restrepo’s debut novel Illegal, so I’m incredibly excited to post my students’ interview with her!  I hope that you’ll check out her book and get a copy for yourself 🙂  Thank you, Bettina, for doing this with my students!

Summary of Illegal (From Goodreads):

A promise.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .

Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father’s return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceañera.

Bettina Restrepo’s gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl’s unique yet universal immigrant experience.

** Bettina’s website**
**Add Illegal on Goodreads**


  • Do you write any of your books based on personal experiences or are they completely made up?
    A little of both.  ILLEGAL is based around people I saw in a Hispanic Food market I used to work in , but I’m in a lot of the story.  I’m a bit of Nora, Manuela, even the nasty lady who makes fake documents.  (No, I’m not a counterfeiter…. But I am Colombian!)
    My next novel is TELENOVELA and I’m in a lot of it, and yet, as a writer, it’s my job to make stuff up and just make it SOUND real.   The secret is that writers can’t help but pull from their own personality.


  • What’s your favorite type of book to read?
    I love a book that speaks to me at a personal level.  Somehow, I think, ‘how does the author know this about ME?’.  I also love a book that makes me laugh and cry on the same page.  While I like urban fantasy (Melissa Marr, Maggie Stiefvater) I tend to stray away from high fantasy.


  • What was the most challenging part about writing this book?
    That it took me seven years and a lot of waiting.  I didn’t know this book was teaching me to write and to be patient.


  • If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
    Sadly, I would still probably be an auditor.  It was a boring job which I could do well, but kinda-of sucked my soul out of my body.   When I’m not being an ‘author’ – I’m really just a Mom – doing four things at once, forgetting to cook dinner, yelling at my son to pick up his toys, and complaining about the amount of laundry created by the other two people in the house. But, if I had to start again and really truly bring in a paycheck (yes, most writers are broke, I’m lucky to have an engineer as a husband) – I would do something varied like half dog walker, half freelance copy writer, half waitress.  (Yes, I know this is 3 halves – I’m busy like that).  Even if I was scraping out a living, I would be aiming to get myself back there.


  • What goes through your mind to start writing a book?
    It’s a manic stage.  Too many people (in my head) talking at once.  Flashes of scenes, rushes of emotions.  It’s like falling deeply in love during the first draft.  Revision is like realizing that the person you fell in love with isn’t perfect and farts in their sleep, but you’ve invested too much energy to break up.


  • When did you know you wanted to be an author?
    I had a flash of it in 2nd grade when an author spoke at my elementary school.  I was totally in awe that someone was responsible for the WORDS in the book.  Then again, in 4th grade when I read Bridge to Teribitha.  It was the first time I read words that explained how I felt, and I wanted to be able to do that for myself. Then, I spent the next 25 years convincing myself I wanted a real job in corporate America that paid a salary every month.  It was when I finally grew some confidence that I began to write again. I have since burned my pantyhose.  Never, never again will I wear those torture devices.
  • How did your story come to you?
    Nora’s story grew in inches.  I would see something, and it would spur a scene.  I would see a girl by the side of the road, and she would haunt me.  I would read immigrant stories and not be able to get them out of my mind.  Like a thousand seeds planted deep in the dirt of my mind, one day, without my permission, needed to grow and it was my job to sit down, shut up and type.

Zach T.:

  • What is your method of creation?
    Work hard, try not to rush, then work some more.  Also, taking time to relax and hear yourself is important.   Also, walk the dog.


  • How did it take you to write Illegal?
    On and off, seven years. First draft came in 3 months, then I rewrote it and crafted the story as I learned.
  • Will your future books share the same theme?
    Yes and no, because I’m not just the  “Latina” girl. While I write from a Hispanic sensibility, I find that it translate simply to people are people, only the setting and the flavors change.  If you see my picture, I look white.  Okay, just so you know, I dye my hair blond (like every Latina and Texan I know)…. And another secret – the Hispanic population comes in all colors.  Brown, yellow, white and black. My next book is quite funny and campy… because I just needed the lighter side after dragging Nora through the dirt for so many years.  So, I will write books that intrigue me, and if they have a Latino or immigrant feel, we’ll see.


  • What advice do you have for young writers?
    All of you are going to hate this advice – writing is not about publication.  Writing/telling a story makes us human.  Write and tell your stories and celebrate them for what they are.  Very little will end up on the bookstore shelf – but this doesn’t mean the story isn’t important.  Let the art and the love of story guide you.
  • Did you do any research for Illegal?
    I worked around many of the types of people in my book.  I also looked at gang issues, statistics of border crossings, and visited shelters that housed immigrants.  I couldn’t tell you how much because I am a voracious reader, and it seemed when I need a piece of information, it would materialize in front of my eyes.
  • What do you feel readers should take back from your book?
    That we are all immigrants.  Not every issue is black and white.  We should treat people, seen and unseen, humanely.


  • Why did you choose writing as a career?
    It chose me.  It takes a special kind of crazy to be a writer.


  • Is your main character, Nora, based on anyone you know?
    Nora is fictional – her story, I’m sad to report, is very common.


  • How do you accurately write about the feelings of an illegal immigrant?  Do you know someone or have you asked someone what it’s like before writing the book?
    Good question!  My family earned their citizenship to the US, and I’m the first one in my family born on US soil.  I don’t believe in illegal immigration, but currently, the process the government is difficult and nearly impossible to navigate unless you already have someone living here in the US or you have a lot of money.  But, until the law changes, people shouldn’t immigrate here until they have a legal footing.Also, we, and I speak broadly about the US, because many of you may feel differently about this topic, allow the need for immigrants to do our unpleasant work.  Those who come across do so out of desperation.  They also do it because American’s will pay for their work.  As you live your life in the next week, look around and guess – how many people do you interact with who might be illegal?  Don’t just think Hispanic.  Look at all races, nationalities, religious and sexual orientations.  How did they get here?  How did YOU get here?  We all have a story. Nora came because he father stopped communicating, and their financial livelihood was at stake.  Is it right that she broke the law – no.

    I focused on her feelings that she just wanted to find her father and return home to begin her life.

**Illegal Giveaway**
If you would like to participate to win a  signed copy of Illegal, please answer the following question via comments:
“Would you break the law to find your family across a foreign border?”

Entry Guidelines:
You must answer the above question.
You must be at least 13 years old.
This is an international contest being sponsored by Bettina 🙂
Not mandatory, but it would be cool to know your city and state of residence or country.

You will be entered to win 1 of 5 signed copies.
The winner will be announced on Bettina’s Facebook and on Twitter (@BettinaRestrepo) on April 1st!



  1. Thank you Sarah and her classroom full of smart, smart students.

    I’ll be sending each of you signed bookmarks for asking such great questions!

  2. F. Kate says:

    Hi Mrs. Andersen. What a great giveaway you have here! Please write me in! I am from Caracas (Venezuela) and as a Latina, this book has all my attention. I know and have heard of plenty of people who have entered the United States illegally, or who have stayed beyond the legal limit established in their visas. That is common practice among Latinos longing for a better life.

    That said, I would never EVER break that law in particular, no matter how hard pressed to do it I am. Even if my principles didn’t pull me against it, I have heard of so many attempts to immigrating illegaly go awry, that I would shrink from the idea out of sheer terror. Even if my family were stranded in the other side of a foreign border, I would try every other possiblility instead. I could and would break laws to protect my dear ones, yes, but definitely not THAT one.

    Oh, and I am well over 13, by the way. =)

    Thanks for the chance of winning a copy of Illegal! Cheers from Venezuela!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I love your response! And thank you for entering 🙂 I think it’s so cool that a reader from Venezuela is checking out my blog!

    • Thank you for such a great reply! I am Colombian, so I know the story well!

      • F. Kate says:

        Wow, thank you both. *blushes*

        A Young Adult book on illegal immigration is meant to resonate deeply with people like us. In my case, it is not just entering (or staying in) the USA illegaly that I am familiar with. My current neighborhood is made up mostly of Colombians. Some of them have crossed the _Venezuelan_ border illegally, driven out of their homes by poverty and war, like many, many of their fellow countrymen. Needless to say, not all of them make it, let alone find what they are looking for in this country.

        It is often worse, much worse, for those who hop over to the USA, what with the remarkable differences in legislation and economy, where an entirely different language is spoken, and illegal immigrants are not only looked down, but even preyed, upon.

        This book holds so much promise! I am very excited to say someone has addressed the topic, and to hear it is someone deeply familiar with it and so in love with writing makes it all the more promising. I can’t wait to be able to read it. You probably can’t answer this right now, Ms. Restrepo, but I must ask anyway: will it be hitting the Latin American market any time soon?

        • Ahhh yes, now I find the comment! You can order this book from The Book Depository online, and they have free international delivery.

          But, the translation won’t be sold until May or June. I’m hoping Editorial Norma picks it up as they always do lovely editions.

          I’m passing along all international comments to my agent so that she can use them when we begin the international sales process.

          Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments. One day, I would like to write more about the Colombian people, especially the problems with FARC and the revolutions.

          • F. Kate says:

            Heh, I *just* spotted your reply above. Sorry for the double reply. I would definitely read those books. I left my email address in the other post below. Just in case, here it is again: feryerith -at- yahoo -dot- com.

  3. What a great interview — I love the questions the kids asked and I’m still laughing and nodding over many of Bettina’s answers. And here, here to no more pantyhose!

  4. I am sure you must get sick of my usual response to the “Students Want To Know” feature, but again, it was amazing. I am so happy you got the opportunity to do this! I loved all of the questions and answers (as always!)

    …Now for the giveaway part, because you know I love those! The answer is YES! I would most definitely break the law for my family. I would go to the ends of the earth for the ones I love. I am thankful that I have not needed to break across the border to save ones that I love, but if the issue were to arise, of course. I don’t think I could live with myself knowing that I could have helped them if I only tried a little harder. Sneaking across the border is dangerous and has many consequences, but a small chance is worth it. If a few harsh consequences was the only thing I would receive for trying to save my family, then I could live with it. Again thanks for this opportunity, and awesome interview!

  5. Taylor B. says:

    I would have to say yes I would break the law to find my family. They are my family and I would do anything for them it probably wouldn’t matter what the situation was just as long as they are safe. I am from michigan by the way

    Thank you forthe giveaway

  6. what a great interview although I must admit I am at the point of wanting a divorce from my current farting guy (read: current manuscript).

    Love these students engaged in reading and the writing process. Love Students Want to Know! And can’t wait for next month’s student reader spotlight. 🙂

    And doesn’t Illegal sound intense and wonderful? Although I am secretly already pining for the campy Telenovela. 🙂

    • Thanks Gae –

      The problem with divorcing our old farting manuscripts is that we would have to go out into the world and find a new WIP.

      and they may fart too. Better to dance with the devil that brought you.

      We can always dance together 🙂

  7. Ahhh what an awesome giveaway!! I cannot wait to get my hands on this book sounds epic.
    To answer your question I deffo would, no doubt about it. I would risk everything for the people I love =D
    I live in the lake district in the UK =D


  8. Some days I might actually consider border hopping for my family, and others I would even think twice, Though I might possibly chicken out lol
    Both Illegal and Telenovela sound really really good 🙂 and the interview was pretty awesome, giving hope to writers like me and whatnot 🙂

    Btw, I’m also from Clio, MI

  9. Would I jump the border for my family?

    Heck yes! Without a doubt. I love them to death and I would hope they’d do the same for me. They’re always the ones I can turn to whenever things get scary and I’m very thankful for being surrounded-literally they’re my neighbors lol-by a few of the people I love the most.

  10. Oh! And I’m 15, and I live in Clio Michigan 48420

  11. My first reaction was definitely yes, I’d do anything, break any law to find my family no matter where they are trapped, but the more I think about it, I’m not as sure. Real life doesn’t always work out like stories. If something went wrong (and it very well could), I wouldn’t be much help to my family. First, I would try any other means to get to them or bring them home. but if nothing else would work, I think I would do whatever I had to do.

    Down here in southern Indiana, I’m keeping a close eye on your blog and these great interviews. I am seeing where I can take my middle school bloggers and readers.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I love your comment, Kay! I think I’d do the same as you, even though my gut would be to jump right in and help.

      And I’m so glad you’re enjoying the interviews and my blog 🙂 I hope it helps your students!

    • Kay – I was so excited to do this with students. If you want your students to read Illegal and ask me a few questions, I’m happy to help!

      The best part of the questions raised…. it brings on more discussion!

  12. I don’t want to seem cold to family, but it really depends. :\ Depends on how close I am with him or her. If it’s someone I am close with, most likely. But if I am not close with that person, then probably not. It’s a hard decision. it also depends on what happens if the government found out.

  13. I loved reading the Q&A! I love that kids get to ask all these authors questions. 🙂

    I would most definitely break the law for my family. Family is there for you no matter what. That small chance of hope would definitely keep me fighting for them.
    (Clio, MI)

  14. Yes, absolutely. They are my world.

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  15. “Would you break the law to find your family across a foreign border?”

    I would not do that.
    It will just add the list of my problem. It make it even worse.
    I am sure I still have another legal way to find my family.
    I love my family but I dont want to make them also worry about me.

    I live in Indonesia.

  16. Sarah – I don’t see the comment where someone was asking when it would be sold in South America?

    But… the translations will be sold to agents in May.

    But, to receive it in English, they can oder from The Book Depository. It’s a great UK company that ships for free all over the world, and at reasonable prices (i think Illegal is listed at around $12 US right now)

    • F. Kate says:

      That must have been mine. 🙂

      And yes, The Book Depository ships all over the world… except Venezuela. 🙁

      I know this might be stretching it, but if possible, could I ask you some questions on the publishing details for Venezuela? You don’t have to answer. If you want to discuss the matter, my email is feryerith -at- yahoo -dot- com. If you don’t want to, I understand perfectly, no feelings hurt. =)

  17. “Would you break the law to find your family across a foreign border?”

    Althoug breaking the law is, as we all know, not good, my family are the most important people in my life. While, I constantly disagree and argue with them and may not show how much I truly appreciate them, I don’t know what I would do without their love and support. Seeing my parents and little brother at home, everyday, always brightens my mood and helps me through whatever I’m going through. So, to answer the question, there’s no doubt that if I were able to break the law to find my family, I would do it.

  18. By the way, I’m from Clio, Michigan.

  19. I’m halfway through ILLEGAL and it’s sooooo good! Living in the wilds of west Texas, this seriously speaks to me. Thank you for such a powerful, beautiful book, Bett.


  1. […] Bettina Restrepo, the debut author of Illegal, which posted on March 1st.  It’s a great interview, and as a thank you to my students, Bettina sent them personalized Illegal bookmarks, some Class of […]

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