By Lauren Lavelle
Award-winning author and Rider alumna Patti Sheehy, ’68, visited select college reading classes on Nov. 17 to discuss her critically acclaimed nonfiction novel, “The Boy Who Said No.”
Published in 2013, “The Boy Who Said No” tells the story of Frank Medero, a young Cuban boy living under Castro’s regime who longs to join the love of his life in the United States.
With a story of political struggle, Sheehy takes us through a first-hand account of the hardships Cuban citizens had to endure during Castro’s tough version of leadership.
Accompanied by Medero himself, Sheehy discussed how she initially became aware of the story and shared her journey to get it published.
“I was working as director of marketing at the Kennedy Health System and one day a young woman came up to me and said, ‘My father has a great story and I want someone to write it as part of our family history,’” said Sheehy. “She wasn’t actually asking me to write it, but I was thinking, OK, that will probably be five pages double spaced, it will take me about a week. So, I told her I would do it for her.”
Soon enough, after hearing the extensive detail in Medero’s words, Sheehy knew five pages would not suffice.
“I said, ‘Frank, I think we got a book on our hands,’ said Sheehy. “I had never written a book before. I had written some magazine articles and PR writing brochures but the difference between that and a book is enormous. I thought I would give it a try, though.”
After a year of weekly meetings and countless hours of writing and editing, Sheehy had a completed manuscript ready to be shipped out to publishers.
For six months, Sheehy waited for a publishing company to show interest in Medero’s story but, unfortunately, none of them did.
“There’s a lot of doubts that go through your head,” said Sheehy of the publication process. “I was left with a manuscript that nobody wanted, so I was pretty discouraged.”
Eventually, after more than a year of failed attempts to put Medero’s voice on shelves, a publishing company finally took Sheehy up on her offer and was willing to publish her novel.
“They said they looked at the manuscript and, even though it was out of their genre, they liked it so much they were going to publish it,” said Sheehy. “They gave me a two-book contract.”
Soon after, “The Boy Who Said No” catapulted into fame, winning The Benjamin Franklin Gold Award and quickly becoming an Amazon #1 Best Seller.
Medero, who has risen to modest fame after the release of the novel, is always happy to tell his story and elaborate further on his life at the numerous lectures he has given over the years.
“I had a great life growing up in Cuba, it was a different place,” said Medero. “Just before the communists took over, it was a normal, ordinary country. Life was cut short for me, though.”
Drafted into the Cuban army in 1964, Medero did not have it easy and was often subjected to forms of torture from communist sympathizers.
“They wanted to create a military fortress out of Cuba,” said Medero. “Boys did not belong to their parents; boys in a communist state belonged to the state.”
Although his journey to America was not an easy one, Medero does not regret his endeavors and feels he owes his freedom to the friends who helped him achieve his goal.
“My experience was tremendous and it still lives with me,” said Medero. “So many people take freedom for granted; it’s very sad to see that. Relationships are so powerful and so important. I would never have escaped that island without the help of my friends and the motivation that the most beautiful girl in the world was waiting for me. I would have moved mountains to get there.”
Overall, Sheehy credits her major for her curiosity regarding Merdero’s story.
“I was a history major at Rider,” said Sheehy. “Knowing something about history informed my narrative and helped me with my research.
Sheehy also hopes Medero’s story makes an impact on people for the right reasons.
“This story came to me; I didn’t come to the story,” said Sheehy. “I hope this story teaches people the value of friendship, the value of love and a little bit about the immigrant experience and what people go through in order to get to freedom and this country.”