Monday, November 4, 2019

YA For a Day: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

 I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)

What It's About: 
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.

First Lines:
What's surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face. Her pale lips are turned up ever so slightly, and someone has filled in her patchy eyebrows with a black pencil. The top half of her face is angry--like she's ready to stab someone--and the bottom half is almost smug. This is not the Olga I knew. Olga was as meek and fragile as a baby bird.

My Thoughts:
I always like reading books about other experiences, and this one did not disappoint. Julia is a typical rebellious teenager, except she's straddling two worlds: the America she's grown up in, and the traditional values of her Mexican family.  The whole family is thrown into crisis by the death of her older sister, Olga. Julia moves from experiencing grief through anger, to realizing that her sister might not have been the perfect daughter everyone thought her to be.

The word I'd most use to describe Julia is caustic. She says what she thinks, and it often gets her into trouble. As is common in the teenage years, Julia feels she belongs nowhere, and this leads her to dark places.

In an attempt to readjust her view of life, her parents send her to spend time with family in Mexico. At this point in the book, Julia is ready to change and learn some lessons. This interlude is where the novel opened up. We got to learn the back story about an event which totally changed her parents' lives, and this gives Julia crucial insight into them.

I liked that the novel still wasn't all sweetness and light after this. Julia still struggles as she learns about her sister's secret life, as she receives college rejection letters, and she tries to figure out what to do with Connor, the boy she met at a bookstore, and with whom she might or might not be in love.

The insights into Mexican culture were fascinating, the narrative flowed well, and it was an engrossing read. What else could a predominantly middle grade mafioso ask for during an infrequent venture into YA? Hooray!

About the Author:
Erika L. Sánchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. A poet, novelist, and essayist, her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was published by Graywolf in July 2017, and was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, published in October 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, is a New York Times Bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist.

You can learn even more about her at her website. Twitter