November 17, 2017

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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez | SLJ Review

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redstarSÁNCHEZ, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. 352p. Knopf. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524700485.

Gr 10 Up –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 siter’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. VERDICT 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.–Alea Perez, Westmont Public Library, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

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