I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
By Erika L. Sanchez
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Age Range: 14+

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Part detective story, part coming-of-age tale, Sánchez’s novel doesn’t shy from heavy subject matter. 
—The New York Times Book Review

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?

Reviews & Accolades
This gripping debut about a Mexican-American misfit is alive and crackling—a gritty tale wrapped in a page-turner…Part detective story, part coming-of-age tale, Sánchez’s novel doesn’t shy from heavy subject matter…The story spirals into dark territory when Julia begins to suffer from clinical depression. But she’s so blunt, funny and brave that she never becomes an object of our pity. And her moments of joy…are transcendent.”  —The New York Times Book Review

“Why isn’t 15-year-old Julia Reyes a perfect Mexican daughter in her mother’s eyes? Mostly because of her older sister, Olga, who puts family first, listens to her parents, and dresses conservatively. Julia, by contrast, argues with her mother, talks back at school, and dreams of becoming a famous writer. When Olga dies suddenly, Julia is left wishing that they had been closer and grieving what she sees as Olga’s wasted life. And when she starts to suspect that Olga might not have been so perfect, she follows every clue. Sánchez’s debut novel covers a lot of ground, including Julia’s day-to-day activities in Chicago, her college ambitions, her first boyfriend (who is white and comes from a wealthy neighborhood), her difficult relationship with her overprotective parents, and her search for Olga’s secrets. As the book moves along, Julia’s frustration with the many constraints she lives under—poverty, family expectations, and conditioning that she resents but can’t quite ignore—reaches dangerous levels. Julia is a sympathetic character, but Sánchez’s often expository writing keeps her and her struggles at arm’s length.”  —Publishers Weekly

“Fifteen-year-old outcast Julia Reyes longs to attend college in New York, in order to get away from the suffocating watch of her undocumented Mexican parents in Chicago. The unusual death of Julia’s older sister Olga—considered the perfect child by her family—only bolsters this desire, as her parents focus their attention even more strongly on their now only child. When Julia stumbles across unexpected items in Olga’s bedroom after the funeral, she sets off on a course to discover her sister’s secrets while trying to find some escape from her strict parents. Sánchez makes Julia’s unflinching candidness very clear from the start, with the opening sentence providing her stark description of Olga’s corpse. This attitude intermittently brings levity to heavy moments, but also heartbreak when the weight of it all comes crashing down. That honesty and heartbreak is skillfully woven throughout, from the authentic portrayal of sacrifices made and challenges faced by immigrants to the clash of traditional versus contemporary practices, and the struggle of first-generation Americans to balance their two cultures. The importance of language, a lens through which Latinxs are often viewed and sharply judged, is brilliantly highlighted through an ample but measured use of Spanish that is often defined in context without feeling forced or awkward. The author interweaves threads related to depression/anxiety, body image, sexuality, rape, suicide, abuse, and gang violence in both the U.S. and Mexico with nuance, while remaining true to the realities of those issues.  Like Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, sans the diary format, this novel richly explores coming-of-age topics; a timely and must-have account of survival in a culturally contentious world.”  —School Library Journal (Starred Review)

“After the death of her dutiful older sister, Olga, Julia must deal with grieving parents and the discovery that her sister was keeping secrets.Fifteen-year-old Julia Reyes is nothing like her sister, “Saint Olga,” who was struck by a semi at age 22 and was always the family’s “perfect Mexican daughter”: contributing at home, attending community college, working at a doctor’s office, and helping their mother clean houses. Julia, on the other hand, hates living in her roach-infested apartment building in their predominantly Latinx Chicago neighborhood, and she doesn’t even try to live up to her Amá and Apá’s expectations that she behave like a proper Mexican young lady. After secretly snooping through Olga’s room, Julia begins to suspect that Olga may have led a double life. In one of many overlong subplots, Julia starts a romance with a rich Evanston white boy, Connor, whom she meets at a used bookstore. Sánchez’s prose is authentic, but it’s difficult to root for Julia, because she’s so contemptuous, judgmental, and unpleasant: “I do dislike most people and most things”—from “nosy” aunts, “idiot” cousins, and tacky quinceañera parties to even her “wild and slutty” best friend, Lorena, at least sometimes. An abrupt plot development involving self-harm and mental illness feels forced, as does a magically life-changing trip to Mexico in the third act. This gritty contemporary novel about an unlikable first-generation Mexican-American teen fails to deliver as a coming-of-age journey.”  —Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented
Mexican American

Cross-Group Friendship
Cultural Identity
Cultural Traditions
Family Death
Family Relationships
Grandparents & Intergenerational
Migrant Life
Multicultural Friendship
Sibling Relationship
Undocumented Immigration

United States (Chicago, IL)

Engagement Projects & Resources
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