I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER FREE. STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW CERTAIN THINGS!
Trigger warning: discussions about death, anxiety attacks, rape, sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide attempts, etc.
Why did I place a trigger warning? Because I really wish I'd had one before reading this book. Don't get me wrong--I am totally glad I read it, but it was rough and there were times when it became a bit too much for me. Which, honestly, I guess it should become a bit too much for the reader, because this is a story we need to hear. (I just needed a little warning before I dove into it.)
Sanchez's book is a YA novel that follows Julia as she tries to uncover secrets she starts to uncover when her sister, Olga, is killed. Julia's parents are illegal immigrants, and Julia is not conforming to her strict family's ideas of womanhood. She is a feminist and a writer--though she keeps her writing secret. She is a good student, but after Olga's death, she becomes consumed with tracing her sister's life. She tries hard to keep herself separate from the "perfect" image of womanhood that her mother believes in, but there are times when it seems like it will destroy her. As she gets closer to finding out the truth about Olga, she finds out that none of the women in her family are "perfect Mexican daughters," and she discovers her own self worth.
Verdict? I LOVED THIS BOOK. I think everyone in government should read it. People place labels on immigrants all of the time and fail to acknowledge the struggles and reality of immigrants' lives. So, yes, overall, I loved this book.
Some of the MANY positives: You learn a lot about the danger immigrants face and the realities of life for many immigrants. The book provides a beautiful window into the inner workings of a Mexican immigrant family and shares cultural details seamlessly throughout the story. Also, though I am not a teenager (obviously), I still remember what it felt like to be one...and I think that Sanchez's YA voice is spot on. She is such a gifted writer, and this is a book you don't want to put down.
So why the 4 star rating? I felt that at one point later in the story that the book tried too hard. This is an incident that takes place in Mexico--one that highlights a huge problem that many in Mexico face. I know that cartel violence is real and definitely a danger. I think this could have been a great scene in another book or at least handled differently in this one. When I read it--and this is just my opinion--I felt that the author was trying to put way too much into the book. That she was trying to cover all of the bases. It felt a bit distracting to me. Again, I am not saying this isn't a realistic portrayal of violence or living under the cartel. Just in terms of plot, it felt too much after everything that had already happened.
Another problem that I felt wasn't addressed accurately concerns Julia's reaction to her mother destroying her writing. The moment when Julia's mother destroys her poems was so painful to read. I could empathize. Though no one ever destroyed my work, I can imagine what it would feel like if someone did--especially if that person was my mother. The scene was portrayed so vividly, and Julia's pain was palpable. However, it is never brought up again. When Julia must attend therapy, there is no real discussion of this moment, and I feel like so much could have been done with it. It just fell out of the narrative, and it seemed like such a crucial moment.
Anyway, those are the only problems I had with the book. But, as I said, I loved it, and I highly recommend it for readers who can handle it. Just be aware that the emotions in this book run high. You will connect with Julia, and the tragic moments become so much more tragic. I couldn't let it go for a while, and it was a hard reading experience in some ways. But I will definitely be picking up Sanchez's next novel, whenever it comes out.