I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter By Ericka L. Sanchez
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Topics: Coming of age, immigration, mother-daughter relations
Triggers: Death, mental illness, self-harm, sexual assault
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publishing Year: 2017
Format Read: Hard Cover
My Rating: 5/5
This book is a perfect example of why representation is so important in books and especially in children’s books and YA. While of course you can and should enjoy stories outside of your ethnic group there is something electrifying that happens when you can read about someone that you can related to one the page. Especially when you are not used to seeing your culture or people who look like you represented in media. That is what happened to me when reading this book.
Summary: Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter felt to me like ‘The Joy Luck Club’ (a book I loved and that stayed with me) for a new generation particularly in its nuanced exploration of mother-daughter relationships across generations, immigration and cultural rifts. It dives into the sometimes complicated expectations that come with being the daughter of immigrants and the gendered and cultural expectations placed on young women who having grown up in the US in circumstances much different than what their parents experienced.
While the question of who Olga really was drives the story. At its core the book is is a coming of age story of a Mexican-American girl living in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago. Even as she deals with the passing of her older sister, Julia faces the turmoil of teenage life. We see her fraught relationship with her parents in particular her mother who cannot seem to stop comparing her to Olga, her struggle to find her voice as a writer, her academic ambitions and her tenuous relationship with a rich white boy from Evanston. Sanchez explores these elements of growing up in a way that is not condescending or caricaturesque and boldy journeys into some of the darkest subjects I have seen a YA novel cover including class, race, mental health, immigration status and self-harm.
The main reason that I have heard for people not liking the book has been that Julia is an unlikable character. Spoiler alert: that’s in the title. Julia can come off as angry, self-destructive, and ungrateful and is in fact accused of all of these things by her family. I absolutely loved her. Sanchez, as I mentioned does not shy away from exploring the dark corner’s of the teenage psyche in this book. Julia is not perfect, and she knows it. The notions that she is
Julia and I don’t share a lot on face value, our immigration, economic and family dynamics are different but there was enough in common there, tidbits in the authors writing that evoked such a powerful emotional reaction in me. I could relate to Julia’s journey as a formally grumpy teenager myself, to her complicated family dynamics, to her love of reading and her academic ambitions in a way that I have rarely, if ever felt when reading a YA novel. This is the power that diverse publishing brings to readers, it allows them to see themselves, reflected onto the page. Especially during those turbulent teenage years when the world can seem isolating, seeing your hopes/worries articulated on a page can be tremendously empowering. This is the book I wish someone had handed me when I was Julia’s age.