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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

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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?

344 pages, Hardcover

First published October 17, 2017

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About the author

Erika L. Sánchez

6 books1,043 followers
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. She was a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, and a recent recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She has recently been appointed the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at DePaul University and is part of the inaugural core faculty of the Randolph College Low Residency MFA Program.

Erika grew up in the Mexican working class town of Cicero, Illinois, which borders the city's southwest side. In fact, her childhood apartment was so close to Chicago that she could hit it with her shoe if she flung it out the window. (Maybe she tried this, maybe she didn't.)

As a daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Erika has always been determined to defy borders of any kind. And, not surprisingly, her clothes perpetually smelled of fried tortillas when she was a child. Her role model was—and continues to be—Lisa Simpson. As a result, she was a young and sometimes overbearing (but in a cute way?) feminist and overachiever. Ever since she was a 12-year-old nerd in giant bifocals, she's dreamt of becoming a successful writer.

Erika graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago, then went onto Madrid, Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship. There, she wrote poems late into the night, taught English at a secondary school, and ate a medley of delicious cured meats. After her scholarship, Erika moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She did not love Albuquerque but was pleased with the clear skies and ample parking. She graduated with distinction.

Erika has received a CantoMundo Fellowship, Bread Loaf Scholarship, and the 2013 "Discovery"/Boston Review Prize. In 2015, Erika was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from The Poetry Foundation.

Erika's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many prestigious literary journals, including Poets.org, Vinyl Poetry, Guernica, diode, Boston Review, ESPN.com, the Paris Review, Gulf Coast, POETRY Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine. Her poetry has also been featured on “Latino USA” on NPR and published in Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation (Viking 2015).

In the fall of 2014, the Guild Complex of Chicago invited Erika and four other writers to participate in Kapittel, the International Festival of Literature and Freedom of Speech in Stavanger, Norway where she met incredible exiled writers from around the world and ate pickled fish for breakfast.

From 2012-2015 Erika was the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas. She loves giving women feminist, sex positive advice. And no, she is not the "Latina Carrie Bradshaw." Seriously, please don't call her that. Erika has also contributed to a variety of top tier publications, such as Time, The Guardian, NBC News, Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, Truthout, Salon, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, Her articles have been republished all around the world and have been translated into several languages. She has been profiled by NBC News, PBS, Telemundo, and has appeared on National Public Radio on many occasions. Her essay “Crying in the Bathroom” was published in the anthology Double Bind: Women on Ambition (Liveright 2017).

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,248 reviews
Profile Image for Joss.
114 reviews38 followers
October 16, 2017
Everyone needs to read this book. I've never felt so connected to a character in my entire life.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
June 19, 2018
“Obnoxious” and “constantly confrontational” would be the best words to describe Julia, the main character and narrator of this novel. I don’t think I really warmed up to her, even after getting to know her better and learning some of the reasons for her attitude . She is not an easy person to like, that’s it. I’ve known people like this in real world. But it’s not really a criticism of the novel. Julia’s personality clashes with her mother’s are a major part of the story. This is a story about meeting your parents’ expectations and breaking away from the culture your parents come from.

One of the stronger portrayals of immigrant experience in YA, with a very vivid picture of life in Mexican community, both in America and Mexico.
Profile Image for eri b.❀.
419 reviews42 followers
June 11, 2018
I wish I knew the right thing to say, but I don’t. I never do.

She never does, indeed.

I don't know where to begin. I read this with high expectations, I must admit, as I always do with books that involve with Mexican culture. But as The Inexplicable Logic of My Life and Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, I ended up disappointed. At least Benjamin Alire Sáenz had some points in his favor, but I just couldn't find any in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. It actually made me more angry than disappointed. This book was not painful stereotypes, but plain racism.

I'm going to start for the portrayal of Mexico and Mexican culture. Every time I read books by children of immigrants I remember a question that my cousin, also a child of immigrants that had never been in Mexico, made me when I made a trip to the USA, "oh my god do you have X-box in Mexico?". So far, in the YA I've read the authors seem to believe all of the country is still living in 1900 or something like that, eating tortillas and menudo and tacos all the time. Erika L. Sánchez even decided to introduce narcos as a normal occurrence! This even felt worse because Sánchez wrote about a place in Chihuahua, my state.

They dated for a year until he and his family moved back to Mexico (oh my God, who does that?).

Right? Who could even possible want to go back to Mexico? Ugh.

The entire premise feels like an insult both to Mexican daughters and to women that decide to dedicate their lives to their family. Julia claims to be a feminist but we constantly see her insulting, degrading and thinking low of women for all kind of things: if they're not smart enough, if they use too much makeup, if they got pregnant at an early age, if they like to spend their days taking care of the household and their kids. For Julia, just women that aim for a degree are worth respecting.

I always thought Angie would grow up to be something awesome, like a designer or an artist, but it turned out she was another Mexican daughter who didn’t want to leave home.

The whole premise of this book felt too stupid. The "perfect Mexican daughter" she talks about so much it's the perfect Mexican daughter of a hundred, or at least fifty, years ago. Today most Mexican girls are not only motivated, but also expected to get a higher education and live on their own. We are encouraged to get a good job. Moreover, while there are some problems still deep in our culture and some of our traditions, these issues where not addressed at all. Like I said in my review in The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, conflicts like this would be easily solved focusing in the Mexican-American culture, not saying "Mexicans are this and this" but instead "children of Mexican immigrants and their families", or doing a whole lot more research.

I still liked The Inexplicable Logic of My Life much better than this book. Even if that one had many stereotypes, at least the author wrote about things with some level of respect. Sánchez just rips off Mexican culture and explains why is so bad.

Mexican ladies are always knitting doilies for everything—doilies for the TV, doilies for vases, doilies for useless knickknacks. Doilies as far as the eye can see! How pointless. This is what Amá would call “naco.” We may be poor, but at least we’re not this tacky.

There are too many lines like this that made me cringe every time. There was also a line where she called "indias" to the (I'm guessing) tarahumara women, an incredible degrading term. The author included many things that needed research. I wouldn't have blamed if they used the word as long it was explained later their story, or why it is wrong calling them like that, but like with many things of the Mexican culture the author just didn't bother, creating an inaccurate and disrespectful portrayal.

Besides all these horrible stereotypes, I just couldn't get attached to the protagonist. She was always claiming to be smart but I didn't see any indications of this. She was sexists and homophobic, even if she claimed she was not (she had seen many LGTB+ tv shows please! She can't be an homophobic!). There was also zero development. The book is just about other people learning that she's right and funny and bright.

“No, it’s not even about that. That’s not what I’m saying. Sometimes it’s like you think you’re too good for everything. You’re too hard on people.” Lorena doesn’t make eye contact.

“That’s because I am too good for everything! You think this is what I want? This sucks. This sucks so hard, I can’t take it sometimes.”

Oh god you poor little thing.

The secondary characters weren't any better. All of them were one dimensional and plain boring. There was also so much happening all the time. We got to touch topics like sexism, homophobia, abuse, rape, teen pregnancy, depression, university, adultery, religion... there was a lot to cover and the author simple didn't deliver. The main plot, Olga's mystery, was barely touched, badly executed and ended rashly and without a satisfying conclusion.

I can't even find something good to say about this book. Around the end, there was a scene that was almost touching and some of the paragraphs on anxiety were almost good, and if there wasn't for all the bad development to that point I would have given an extra star, but it felt like a bad message for me.

I'm not giving up on Mexican-American authors in YA, and I do hope I can read better books by Erika Sánchez in the future, because we are badly in need of their voices in literature. Just, better written.
September 13, 2020

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When I was really struggling with my depression as a young woman, someone trying to comfort me actually said something to me that made me feel about a thousand times worse for a really long time. She said that people with depression were "deep, sensitive, caring people" and that we cared too much about others and didn't spend enough time caring about ourselves. It made me feel like trash, because I didn't feel sensitive or caring. I felt angry all the time-- mostly with myself, but with others, too. I just despised myself slightly more than I did the things and people around me. I walked away from that person hating myself a little more that day, because it was like, "Oh, great, so not only am I depressed, selfish, and hateful, I'm not even feeling depressed in the way that I'm supposed to."

It really messed me up.

And while it's true, some people with depression are outwardly caring and compassionate, it is also a condition that can make you incredibly self-absorbed through no fault of your own. I don't think enough people really talk about the different ways that depression can manifest. Sometimes it's a deep feeling of despair that feels like persistent sadness. Sometimes it's emptiness. Sometimes it's anger. Even though I understand why so many readers felt put off by Julia as a narrator for her snarkiness and her attitude and her explosive, confrontational rages, I actually related to her more closely than I have related to any other YA character in a long time because the way she behaves is actually a lot like how I did as a teenager. I can understand that if someone doesn't like themselves, it can be hard to like them as a person. Mental health disorders, especially depression, can be incredibly self-centered. When you feel bad inside, it's really hard to muster the energy to care about others, and Julia is so consumed with her pain that it does make her seem selfish, but she's actually in desperate need of help.

Julia has a lot on her plate. Her perfect older sister just died and her parents are grieving. Olga, the sister, always related to their parents better than Julia did. Olga knew what her parents expected and was only too content to deliver. Julia, however, doesn't subscribe to the traditional beliefs that her parents have brought with her from Mexico. She doesn't like cooking, and she doesn't want to get married, and she has a lot of thoughts about Catholicism and conservative values. She wants to go away-- far away-- to college, and eventually, become a writer. The gulf between her and her parents feels very wide, and even though her parents try to demonstrate their love, they do it in a way that Julia perceives as them ignoring her own wishes and desires, and Julia, with the dreadful, self-consuming weight of her own depression, does not have the means or the will to breach the gulf.

And sometimes, the pressure of trying to fulfill so many expectations, with the crushing threat of failure looming over her head, just makes her feel like she's about to explode.

This is just such a great book on multiple levels. The portrayal of depression, as I said, is incredibly relatable. I loved that the author had Julia's depression manifest as anger, because I think it shows how many teens acting out might do so because of hidden problems that aren't quite so obvious. Meg Medina did something similar in YAQUI DELGADO, with the heroine retreating into herself and acting out because of the depression that bullying at school brought on. I also really liked how the author wrote about Mexican culture, and how there were parts of it Julia really loved, and parts of it she tried to distance herself from, and this becomes especially clear when Julia's parents send her to Mexico to make her feel better, and Julia begins to question her own privilege and the way that she has misunderstood some of her parents' intentions. It reminded me a bit of the PATRON SAINT OF NOTHING, where a character goes to the Philippines and it cements his identity by making him more aware of his roots while also making him realize how much he had to learn about his own culture from his biased perspective of it living in the United States.

There are so many great conversations and dialogues that are brought up in this book. Sexual abuse. Suicidal ideation. Depression. Pleasing and disappointing your parents. Being the first in your family to go to college. Mental health. Cultural identity. Immigration. Fear of deportation. Family sacrifice. Privilege. Miscommunication. The divides that can arise between generations. Family values. Compromise. Dating. Socioeconomic status. And just-- so much. It's a mature young adult book that isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects with finesse, and everything, from Julia herself, to the way mental health is discussed, to the way Julia and her parents relate to their own culture, and how their cultural identity was influenced and shaped by living in the United States as immigrants, and how age and generation influenced that shaping-- it was all so brilliant, and the ending was satisfying.

I did see some people complaining that there is a lot of Spanish in this book-- and yes, there is. Most of it you can probably guess from context, though. I'll admit to being biased: I speak Spanish as a second language, so I knew most of the words, and the ones I didn't, I was able to look up or guess. I really liked it, though. I think it adds a lot of depth to the book, and it sounds like the way people around me talk in real life. Spanish speakers living in the U.S. dip in and out of English and Spanish, slipping back and forth depending on which word or phrase comes first, and I really don't think the book would have felt so comfortably natural without all the Spanish words and phrases. Some of them are actually quite cheeky, or lewdly insulting, so if you look up the words, you may find yourself quite amused.

I loved this book. I wish it had come out when I was a teenager, as I would have loved it then, too.

5 stars!
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,209 reviews35 followers
November 8, 2017
2.5 rounded down

I have to admit, it took quite a while for me to get into this one. This isn't a particularly long read, but is quite slow paced, and more YA than I was expecting (I'll explain that later!).

The story follows Julia's life in the aftermath of her older sister's sudden death at 22 (not a spoiler, it happens on the first page on the book). Julia is a 15 year old Mexican girl, living in Chicago with her incredibly controlling parents. It is apparent from an early stage that Julia has some kind of anger issues (or at least I felt she did.. although perhaps this was just frustration?), and suffers from depression. We stay with her right up until she goes to university, with a few weird time jumps in between.

I found it hard to find any likeable characters here, except Julia's teacher.. and I guess her relatives in Mexico and maybe Connor. I warmed to Julia in the latter stages of the story, but it took a long while. I think the author does a good job conveying how a teenager feels when they have parents who are very restrictive, but it wasn’t a whole lot of fun to read about.

Moving on to the writing... this would be a 2 star read for sure if I rated purely based on the writing. It was written quite simplistically, in a way that made me feel like it was aimed at younger readers (think like 11-14 years old). I'm not saying children these ages need things dumbing down, but like I said, it felt very much like a YA book, even though a lot of the themes (suicide attempts, sex) are probably not suited to children of those ages.

Overall I don't think this is a book that will stick with me for long. The most enjoyable parts to read were when Julia went to Mexico to stay with her relatives, and had it not been for those sections and the character/plot development towards the end of the book I would have found this quite a dull read. Not one I would particularly recommend to others, but I don't massively regret picking it up.
Profile Image for Yusra  ✨.
249 reviews508 followers
April 14, 2023
Olga is dead. Olga, the perfect daughter, one who was both innocent and wore clothes that made her look ugly. She died in a bus accident. She was perfect. She was the perfect daughter .

Now, there is only Julia. Who blames herself for her sisters death, because her mother could have been picking up Olga that day; except she was at Julia’s school, speaking to the principal about another one of Julia’s suspensions.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect to like this because I’m not Mexican and these type of rebellious teen books? Not for me. However this book literally pulled me in and did not let go. It’s a book about coming in terms with who you are, what you’re made of, and breaching the borders. It’s wonderful.

This technically isn’t a spoiler, as it becomes quite obvious earlier on, but I will make it anyway ;

But what I loved most about this was Julia. She actually seemed like ... a high school student. Which, sadly, is actually a big accomplishment in YA. I loved how she wasn’t afraid to voice her thoughts and how she knew she couldn’t be the perfect daughter. I loved how she crafted that pathway for herself. I loved how despite coming off as rebellious to her parents, she had this deep rooted tie to her family and home country. Her visit in Mexico made me feel like I, too, was with my family in Pakistan. The feelings and diversity were crafted so well, I’m kinda tearing up.

Her dedication to her studies was also so good, like I loved her passion and drive to get out of the world she’s lived in all her life and reach her full potential.
Immigration was also touched on, highlighting subtly the dangers and sacrifices people go through every day to live the American Dream.

Oh, but this was also like kinda a mystery-infused book? Like from the start I was wondering holyyyy what is going on??! It’s a big picture that unfolds and shows that literally, nobody is perfect. I found the ending both predictable and not up to the standards... like all that suspense for this to end over a grilled cheese sandwich? (this won’t make sense till you read it, so GO READ IT)

alright, so why wasn’t this a 5 star read?
- I actually am an old grandma when it comes to this but I CANNOT take it when teens , kids, literally anyone is rude to their parents. I did understand where Julia was coming from because her parents literally couldn’t look past the “perfect” standards of her older sister, Olga. But I still don’t take it. This is just a personal thing though, Julia’s anger comes from somewhere and isn’t just her being rude.
- ayyye call me out on this but I spy some instalove?? & Connor really wasn’t that likeable either
- why? do? all? teens? in? books? have? to? do? some? sort? of? drug? but like, it wasn’t exactly the most extreme in this case
- some things were left open ended, so catch me googling this shiiiiit so that was a bit problematic
- the ending seemed to wrap up super quickly, and the revelations were meagre to say the least...

Overall, I so enjoyed this book & somehow managed to relate to the character despite our many differences both in culture + personality. This was also a really informative book about the Mexican culture, I did learn a lot. Somehow Sánchez manages to create these settings that can be so perfectly visualized ; like man, I felt that greasy quinceañera.

also Julia’s love for books & taking books to family parties = me
this was such a good character & culture-driven novel. add it to your tbrs, you won’t be disappointed :)

okay, wtf, wow. I did not think I was going to like this at all bc a) what is that title & b) I never like these types of books.
but like.

buddy read with Alejandra 🌿
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
November 19, 2021
11/91/21 Re-read for Fall 21 YAL class. I liked it better this third time than in each previous readings, and the class liked it, too.

3/31/20: Read for my spring 2020 Growing Up class, now turning into a pandemic online class.

Original review, 8/29/18: I wasn’t sure what to expect in reading this south side Chicago story, a first YA novel that has been very well-reviewed, and half way into it, was not liking the first person narrator Julia, who is sarcastic, arrogant, volatile, and sometimes downright nasty, which is to say she is one kind of teenager, crafted to seem authentic. But she doesn’t play well with others. She doesn’t even like most people. She is Mexican American (or, Hispanic, Latinx) but doesn’t like Mexican music, she listens to edgy/mainstream music. She wants to get out of the city and go to school in NYC and be herself! She’s not getting along with her parents, and especially with her amá. She is not your perfect Mexican daughter, though she does well in school. Let me breathe, amá!! Let me be me!

“I’d rather live in the streets than be a submissive Mexican wife who spends all day cooking and cleaning.”

One big reason for her emotional turmoil, known at the outset, is that her sister, Olga, who had seemed (that’s the key) the perfect Mexican daughter, is killed by a truck. Obviously this is hard on everyone.

(I want to say that I began reading this within 24 hours of swerving on my bike to avoid the back end of a semi, failing to completely jump a curb, hurling over the handlebars and face-planting on a sidewalk, thereafter spitting out blood and half a tooth; I’m basically fine, thanks, no broken bones, with a temporary crown on that front tooth, lost a lot of skin and blood, but to read about someone dying by semi was a little unnerving, to say the least). (But hey, we’re talking about a book here, not me! Sorry!).

“I’ve always had trouble being happy, but now it feels impossible.”

She sees herself pretty clearly sometimes, along the way: “It’s easier to be pissed, though. If I stop being angry, I’m afraid I’ll fall apart until I’m just a warm mound of flesh on the floor.”

Julia, several years younger than Olga, doesn’t know her sister very well, and what she thinks she knows is that Olga, “settling” for being a receptionist, is very conventional; that is, until Julia finds some surprisingly sexy underwear stashed in a secret place in Olga’s room, with a hotel key. . .

What ensues is what amounts to be a mystery investigation into the nature of human imperfection, leading to these secrets Olga has kept. In the process, Julia has to grapple with what Olga’s friend tells her about Olga and whether she should share this information with amá and apá:

“Maybe you’re too young to understand, Julia, but sometimes people don’t need the truth.”

Julia also discovers secrets her amá and apá have kept that help Julia understand and appreciate them. And recall, Julia also keeps secrets from her parents. Julia says she hates secrets and lies, but she isn’t sure what to do about any of these secrets she has or discovers.

“But how do we live with these secrets locked within us? How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”

Julia has some good experiences, in spite of her trauma and self-imposed alienation. She reads. She writes. She has one good friend, then two, and she (secretly-- amá would kill her if she knew) dates an Evanston white (and much wealthier) boy she meets in a used bookstore. So this is YA, it’s a coming-of-age story, and this is all part of the process of Julia growing up and becoming herself. However, before things get better, they get way complicated, and (much) worse; it’s not until after things hit the nadir and she is sent to Mexico to visit family for a time, that we finally see some real growth. In Mexico, she rediscovers her family, her culture, herself:

“As much as I get sick of eating Mexican food every single day of my life, if heaven existed, I know it would smell like fried tortillas.”

This book deals with issues of rage, depression, anxiety, suicide, mixed race/class relationships, and is often pretty funny when Julia is being sarcastic, but she is also caustic, and blunt, so there’s a cringe factor to the humor at times.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is not a perfect book—I want to see more of her actual reading and writing and reflection rather than just reporting about books; one of the central dramatic turning points that happens to Julia isn’t quite prepared for enough, exactly, imo—but it is overall a very good book, and will be a hit among a lot of young people.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,458 reviews8,561 followers
June 23, 2021
I ended up enjoying this one a lot! I found Julia’s character the most compelling part of the novel. I loved how Erika Sánchez wrote her – a teenage Mexican American girl who’s bold, independent, and a bit judgmental and someone who grows throughout the course of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Julia’s older sister died in a car accident and that Julia’s mother always preferred her older sister’s obedience to Julia’s headstrongness. Sánchez’s characterization of Julia remains skillfully consistent throughout the novel, ranging from how the depth of Julia’s emotions and her love of writing as well as how she calls people out like a homophobic church member. At the same time, we see Julia grow into someone who takes care of her mental health, understands her family history more, and feels more set on her path to achieve her dreams. She felt three-dimensional and by the end of the novel I felt myself really rooting for her and her dreams. Also, Sánchez portrayed therapy and taking medication so well in this novel and as both a therapist and a recipient of therapy myself I loved that. We need more portrayals of youth of color benefitting from therapy and help-seeking behaviors.

Sánchez also wrote about intergenerational trauma, gender norms, and grief and loss in meaningful and honest ways. I loved growing alongside Julia in her understanding of these topics and how they affect her life. Sánchez portrays these issues in nuanced ways. Instead of Julia receiving a neat ending in relation to her family’s trauma or grief, she develops more self-compassion and self-understanding that empowers her to keep going even without a clean resolution. Sánchez’s rendition of these issues helped the novel feel both lifelike and hopeful, a powerful combination.

The book did at times feel a tad overwritten, especially in the first half. I felt in a way that Sánchez tried so hard to depict Julia’s assertive and brash personality that it pulled me out of the novel because I kept thinking about Sánchez’s efforts to characterize Julia instead of just vibing with her character and the book. However, this issue felt much less noticeable to me in the middle of the book and toward the end when I got more immersed in the plot and Julia’s ongoing drama and growth. Overall, I would recommend this novel to those interested in realistic young-adult fiction!
Profile Image for Melissa Stacy.
Author 5 books198 followers
December 15, 2017
The 2017 YA contemporary novel, "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter," was a book I wanted to love. I searched bookstore shelves for this title right after the novel's release date, and when I couldn't find it in stock, I put my name on the wait list at the library, and started reading Chapter One as soon as I picked it up.

The main character, however, is equal parts clueless, arrogant, cruel, and balances her character flaws with delusions of grandeur. I could not connect with this Mexican-American teenage girl, as much as I wanted to love her. She was just too selfish, entitled, and mean, even though I understood that her position in life was meant to be pitiable and elicit my sympathy. There was just nothing redeeming about her, and being in her head while reading this story felt needlessly painful.

She begins the story by mocking the corpse of her sister, while attending her funeral. All of this is related in interior monologue. She goes on to make condescending statements about her weeping mother, then complains that her aunts are whispering about her. Her thoughts roam over her own life at the funeral, how she lies to her teacher about having her period to get out of swim class during gym, and how she's frequently in trouble at school and finds her mother annoying.

This young woman has just lost her older sister -- who was "smashed" by a semi (page 8), and this is the stream of thought in her head. The funeral ends on page 11, but by page 37, I just couldn't take anymore. My organs were shutting down on me, and I felt the beginnings of brain death. I had to stop reading this.

I skipped to the middle of the novel, to the part in the story when this lower-middle-class teen girl acquires a wealthy white boyfriend named Connor, and the two have sex for the first time. Julia, the main character, purchases the condoms herself, and then takes three trains to get across Chicago, to Evanston. She gets off the train and takes an unnerving walk to Connor's mansion.

Once the two of them are alone in his bedroom together, Connor finds out Julia is a virgin. He asks her if she's sure she "wants to," and Julia says yes, she does, (page 199) even though she worried on her walk to his house that he might think she's a slut (page 195).

"After we kiss for a while, Connor pulls a condom out from under a couch cushion. I guess he was prepared. I look away as he puts it on.

My body tightens, bracing itself -- it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn't." (page 199)

"Once Connor is finished, he kisses my forehead and sighs. I rush to put on my clothes. I'm suddenly so embarrassed, I can't even look at him. I know that sex isn't evil, that it's a normal part of being a functioning mammal, so why do I feel like I've done something wrong?" (page 200)

Bravo to the author for writing a realistic teen sex scene. But I seriously can't imagine suffering through 200 pages of Julia's miserable life to arrive at this awful sex. This book just feels so punishing to read.

If you want to read a YA/coming-of-age novel starring a judgmental teenager who vacillates between self-loathing and delusions of grandeur, and loses her virginity in a painful sex scene, I'd recommend Curtis Sittenfeld's novel, "Prep." That main character has a much keener intelligence level, and sharper powers of observation, that make tolerating her hateful attitudes much more rewarding.

I'm really sorry I had to DNF "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter." I had expected to love this even more than I enjoyed the YA novel "Moxie" this year. But I just couldn't tolerate Julia, and the prose was simply adequate in this book, without providing the poetic beauty or unique social commentary I need to care about such an unlikeable protagonist. This story was just not for me.
Profile Image for ✦ Maica ✦.
311 reviews162 followers
May 19, 2018
But this isn't about you. This is about protecting those who are still here. Why would you want to cause your family more pain?

Actual Rating: 1.5 stars
possible trigger warnings for depression, attempted suicide, and sexual assault

I honestly wanted to love this book but the characters were so unbearable. I wanted to DNF this so many times but I just kept going to see if the characters will get better. The only thing that kept me going was the Mexican culture. I enjoyed seeing how similar their culture was with the Filipino culture. I could relate with a lot of the things happening around Julia especially the scenes with her mother and her relatives.

~ everything below this will be all my negative thoughts on this book ~

Julia was a horrible main character. She was selfish, arrogant, and downright mean. I understand that the situations that she were in were terrible but she dealt with them so badly. She had the main character complex in which she saw herself as different from other people and that nobody understands her. But honestly, her friends all tried to understand her. Nobody understands her because she doesn't let them. She thinks she's better than everybody and proves herself right by putting other people down. Her behavior was destructive and the only person hurting her the most was herself.

She also contradicted herself a lot. She calls herself a feminist and but put down other women for wearing revealing clothes and having sex. (Despite her best friend doing the same things) She openly agreed with another person being called a slut or a whore for being caught making out.

She was also obsessed with her sister's death. She stated in the beginning that her sister's death wasn't anybody's fault. She was texting and walked onto oncoming traffic. Nobody was to blame. But when the truth came out as to who was the person her sister was texting, Julia tried to blame that person.


I honestly felt bad for Olga. Her death was horrible. She was mocked by her sister during her funeral. Then the same sister dug up all her secrets. There was reason why she kept all those things from her and that was because she knew she would be judged and ridiculed for it. And Julia did all those things.

There were scenes that involved rape and attempted suicide. I don't understand why these were included. They did nothing for the story and the characters. They could be removed and the characters and the ending would still be the same. They didn't grow from these experiences. I felt that these were incorporated just to make this book more edgy or intense. These scenes can be so harmful to others when not dealt with properly. They should not be carelessly thrown around as a plot device.

Overall, this could have been an amazingly diverse and impactful story if they fleshed out the characters. Julia needed to grow up and become a better person. I'm so disappointed with this.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,444 reviews7,535 followers
February 21, 2020
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

If you follow me, by now you should be well aware that my reaction to “Dirtgate” pretty much amounted to . . . .

However, I am a bitch who puts her money (or library card) where her mouth is and not only read (and loved) American Dirt, but also 100% sought out #ownvoices selections as well. Can’t say that I’ve noticed many of the bandwagon jumpers practicing what they preach and blowing up the intertubes with posts actually discussing books they have read themselves, but I digress.

I’m not going to bother “reviewing” this book (or even giffing it up to the extreme like I usually do). It has a 4+ rating, was a National Book Award nominee and there are thousands of other reviews. I’m simply going to say that this is one of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read and I have never connected with a character like I did this one. Her prickly personality was like reading a biography about myself LOL . . . .

“If I end up being an office lady who wears slacks and changes into white sneakers to walk home from the train, I’ll just jump off a skyscraper.”

Preach girl. (I mean, I'm totally a boring office lady, but I refuse to embarrass myself with the skirt/old lady tennies combo.)

We may have come from different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds and had different skin colors, but holy crap was Julia someone I could relate to. I love a good coming of age story. Combine that with a bunch of family stuff and that’s what I call winner winner chicken dinner. And then . . .

Happiness is a dandelion wisp floating through the air that I can’t catch. No matter how hard I try, no matter how fast I run, I just can’t reach it. Even when I think I grasp it, I open my hand and it’s empty.

Oh lord this was good. Every Star and recommended to everyone from teens on up.

Okay, there's no way I can leave without addressing one of the biiiiiiiiig complaints about American Dirt was that every trope was troped for "tragiporn" purposes and no cliché was left untouched (*cough the Quinceañera cough*). Wellllllllll, lemme just say that EV.ER.Y.THANG. that happened in AD also happened in this one up to and including the party. Oh internet trolls, you are TERRIBLE at your job.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,529 reviews11 followers
April 27, 2019
I'm mixed on this one. There are elements of Julia's story I can relate to: her overbearing parents, feeling ostracized among her own extended family, the idea that you are not the "norm" for your race. But there are undertones of us vs. them and I feel it isn't developed fully to have it be part of the story.

For example, Julia meets a boy at a bookstore. He is wealthy and white and different from her in each and every way. And yet, they attempt to date and be together. The problem with this trope for me is that it isn't really adding anything to think about. It's almost as if it is just an element to develop the idea of the mentality that Julia finds herself plagued with in her life.

I feel like there is so much going on with Julia: dealing with the death of her sister and subsequent depression, the trip to Mexico, the reveal of what her parents endured to get to America, the gay friend dealing with an abusive parent, the teacher that takes "an interest" in Julia because she is "the best student" he's had .... it all gets to be too much.

I am for a good YA full of the drama, but this tries to add way too many elements for a fully realized character.
June 11, 2017
Look, I am not a perfect Mexican daughter, but neither was my mother nor her mother before her.
That means that while I've always been aware of the ideal girl many mexicans would like me to be, I've never felt that pressure directly myself. Not like Julia.
This book was really incredible in that way. It was a whole portrayal of Mexican culture, the good and bad. There was a beautiful mix of English and Spanish that felt right for the story. The characters were well written and well developed. I'm really grateful to read a book about Mexicans, not just vaguely hispanic or have hispanic side characters, but actually be about Mexicans.
This is the first book I've ever read about a purely Mexican girl and I wasn't disappointed.
I loved that this book touches on topics of mental health and lgbt, it's a well rounded book that made Julia's story feel real and whole. I liked the way the book went from Julia at 15 to her going to college. Grief and Finding Yourself is a long process and I'm glad the author showed a large period of that time.
Erika Sánchez contributes real representation and a new exciting perspective on a genre that really needed it. Her debut is an absolute smash, she wrote a really strong and important book, I'm so happy to have read it.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
744 reviews11.8k followers
July 3, 2020
“Happiness is a dandelion wisp floating through the air that I can’t catch. No matter how hard I try, no matter how fast I run, I just can’t reach it. Even when I think I grasp it, I open my hand and it’s empty.”
It’s not easy to break away from the perceived cultural expectations. It’s not easy to reconcile frequently clashing cultural views - as a first-generation immigrant myself, I’ll tell you that. And so can Julia Reyes, a Mexican-American young woman from Chicago South Side, who feels trapped in a lackluster existence as her parents mourn her ‘perfect’ older sister and as the Mexican and American parts of her identity are in constant clash.

This is also a book about finding yourself and reconciling your image of self with what the others see. It’s about making your peace with the world - but on your own terms, while changing that world for you to fit in. It is about learning to understand and compromise while also holding your own.
“[…] Nothing satisfies me, nothing makes me happy. I want too much out of life. I want to take it in my hands and squeeze and twist as much as I can from it. And it’s never enough.”
Julia is not a perfect anything, let alone the traditional daughter her parents hope her to be. She is messy and abrasive and judgmental and frustratingly difficult. It’s quickly apparent that the borderline obnoxiousness and arrogance uneasily coexist and possibly stem from severe depression and fear of her own inadequacy under the burden of poverty and unmet social and cultural expectations.

But what is perfect anyway? When it comes to my literary characters, I’d rather have complex - and Julia delivers on that front. She comes to life and shines, and likable be damned.
“I don’t know why I’ve always been like this, why the smallest things make me ache inside. There’s a poem I read once, titled “The World Is Too Much with Us,” and I guess that is the best way to describe the feeling—the world is too much with me.”
Very well-written story, especially for a literary debut. I’ll be on a lookout for more from Sánchez.

4 stars.
Profile Image for Rachel.
76 reviews9 followers
October 17, 2017
This book is a stunning exploration of what it means to want so much while feeling like you have so little. Sanchez does an excellent job of exploring cultural expectations, socioeconomic issues, and anxiety and depression as a late teen. With so much going on, one would expect the book not to tackle all the issues very well. That is not true of this one -- it is a perfect exploration of how we are all dealing with many things at once, and certainly a great example of intersectional feminism in so many ways. Julia is a character many modern women will see themselves in -- a brash, unafraid and unapologetically opinionated young woman dealing with an overbearing mother, a privileged white boyfriend, and expectations all around. Many will find themselves in Julia or her sister Olga, but for those that don't, it's all the more reason to pick this up. Readers will walk away from this novel with a greater understanding of what it is to exist in this world as a woman of color, and they will be better for it.
Profile Image for Cesar.
354 reviews235 followers
December 12, 2022
1.5 stars.

I didn't think it was possible for me to hate - yes I'm using that word - a character so much that I physically wanted to shake her for acting like a know-it-all, holier than thou asshole. Ladies, gents, and nonbinaries, allow me to introduce you to my least favorite character of the year. And do you wanna know something else? The story itself also suffered not only from its inconsistencies but from the main character as well.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia who is trying to cope and adjust to the death of her older sister, Olga. Olga was the perfect Mexican daughter in her parent's eyes. But when Julia discovers some weird things in Olga's room, she begins to wonder if Olga was keeping up a facade in order to hide some secrets.

I already mentioned it earlier but for the most part, Julia and the story were bad. Bad in terms of Julia being an absolute asshole to everyone around her and the story having no coherent flow.

Julia is a character that for the most part, I did sympathize with her albeit that was far and in between her being an asshole. In some ways, I did relate to her because like her, I'm not really in touch with my Hispanic heritage and I often feel like the black sheep of the family. Though I know I am loved by everyone in my family so that's good. She has a hard exterior from keeping up barriers but deep down she's trying to be the best she can be despite the circumstances in her life.

But here's the thing. She's very bratty and immature to the point where every time she spoke or had a train of thought, I grew more and more irritated by her. She's one of the 'I'm not like other girls' type which I absolutely hate and she cranks it up to an 11. She's very judgemental of not only her family but her friends and even complete strangers. If they don't meet her expectations, they're either stupid or just not worth it. She even slut shames her best friend and is borderline homophobic to a guy she just met. She's very hypocritical in the way that she can talk about others behind their backs but when someone does that to her she's mad. Hello? You're doing the exact same thing!!!

It's hard for me to sympathize with her when she acts so poorly to most of the people in her life. Now, her family and extended family are not perfect and in some ways, she's justified in not appreciating how they talk about her. But then she goes and says horrible stuff that any and any sympathy is thrown out the window. And the worst part is, she never faced the consequences of her actions. Even when people stop to tell her how much of an asshole she's being, she ignores it and goes right back to being mean. She deserves a thousand slaps from a chancla.

On top of her shitty behavior, the story did not have a natural flow with Julia's life and her sister's death. It a very character-driven story exploring Julia's emotions after going through a traumatic event. And that's fine. That's good actually. But the story with her sister's secrets feels like an afterthought compared to Julia's story. There would be a couple of pages where Julia wanted to know what secrets her sister was hiding then for the next 60 pages it goes to Julia's life, completely treating Olga's story like it's just another task to procrastinate on.

I tried my best to be patient with the story and Julia. But there was nothing redeemable about anything. Even if Erika L. Sanchez wanted to write the story of a Mexican girl struggling with expectations and coping with her sister's death, she did a terrible job by creating an unredeemable character who is judgemental of others.

Easily one of the most disappointing books of 2022.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews125k followers
September 14, 2017
When Olga is hit and killed by a semi, Julia mourns the loss of not just her sister, but what it might mean for what her life will look like down the road. Olga was quiet, stayed at home, and played the role of “good Mexican daughter.” Julia wants out — she wants more to her life than her Chicago neighborhood or living at home forever like her sister did. She’s a poet and an art lover and wants to make a life out of writing.

Through the process of learning to live without Olga, Julia slowly begins to better understand why her parents, both immigrants, are the way that they are. More, Julia begins to unravel the deep secrets that her sister kept. And it’s during a trip to Mexico to visit family that Julia begins to learn how much her parents sacrificed for her and Olga, as well as how much she has to step up and take control of her own life and future. That it’s OKAY for her not to be someone she isn’t.

This well-drawn debut YA novel from Sanchez should delight readers who loved Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. Also, a moment to drool over that cover!

— Kelly Jensen

from The Best Books We Read In May 2017: https://bookriot.com/2017/06/02/riot-...
Profile Image for Jazmin Castro.
368 reviews181 followers
April 26, 2022
TW: homofobia, machismo, abuso sexual, depresión, ansiedad, intentos de suicidio, trastornos alimenticios.

La premisa del libro me sonaba demasiado interesante: una chica (Julia) que quiere ser libre vive en un hogar extremadamente conservador, su hermana se acaba de morir, y de pronto la chica descubre que su hermana escondía secretos, y con la ayuda de su mejor amiga y de su interés amoroso (al que no conocemos hasta la página 180 aprox, osea la mitad del libro).

A ver mi problema con este libro no es la temática que toma, existen personas extremadamente conservadoras en nuestra sociedad, y hogares exactamente en la misma situación que el de Julia. El problema es que TODO LO QUE HACE ES HACER QUE LA HISTORIA GIRE EN TORNO A ESTEREOTIPOS. TODO. Desde sus amistades, sus acciones, sus quejas, TODO está lleno de estereotipos en esta historia. Y Julia está llena de ellos, y se convierte en una protagonista excesivamente estresante, juzgona y odiosa. Aunque simpatizaba con ella por momentos, simplemente no la pude aguantar. Llega a decir frases como "gay as a rainbow colored unicorn", "young therapist with the asexual mom haircut". WTF ¿qué son esos comentarios? Detestable.

La protagonista no deja de quejarse de todo, literalmente DE TODO. ¿Aparece alguien con un corte de cabello diferente? Se burla. ¿Su hermana está muerta y todos lloran por ella? Se burla. ¿Unas chicas están muy maquilladas para su gusto? Se burla. Se cree superior a todo el mundo porque es una mujer de mundo que quiere salir y no sé quiere quedar a ser una chica mexicana más que nunca sale de su casa (como lo era su hermana). Incluso llega a burlarse del físico de unas chicas y dice: "Incluso si son gordas, se mueven como si pensaran que son fabulosas". Osea, ¿qué quieres decir? Esa frase me llenó de mucha cólera.

La escritura es simple, no profundiza lo que debe y encima parece todo como muy apresurado. La autora no supo manejar la trama en ningún momento, y el "gran misterio" detrás de la vida de la hermana queda en segundo plano el 80% del libro. Te puedes olvidar de ello por completo porque ni importancia tiene, solo cuando la protagonista quiere demostrar que su hermana no era perfecta y etc etc etc, y luego siente culpa por intentar revelar estos secretos. No la llegas a entender, ni a ella ni la escritura del libro. Y es que Julia no tiene ninguna otra motivación más que querer salir de su casa, pero ni siquiera se esfuerza por ello. Su familia no tiene dinero y sus padres no planean apoyarla, pero en lugar de pensar en sus notas, falta a sus clases, le falta el respeto a los profesores, y ni siquiera se esfuerza en el colegio. Es decir, ni ella misma se creía sus motivaciones.

El romance y los personajes secundarios. Ugh, qué puedo decir. El romance fue extremadamente forzado, aparece a partir de la mitad del libro y solamente para decir que Julia tiene más gente para "apoyarla". Es tan rápido que podría no haber pasado y ella seguiría siendo la misma. Los únicos personajes secundarios que me gustaron fueron su familia en México, y también sus padres. No eran los mejores padres, pero cuando conoces todo lo que pasaron...wow, logras empatizar con ellos y sentir que por primera vez entiendes todo lo que son. Están mejor trabajados que Julia misma.

SPOILER? Sorry pero tengo que advertirles. Hay una escena en particular, después de que Julia tenga un intento de suicidio y tiene que asistir a terapia de grupo, donde en lugar de utilizar este escenario como una visión de otras personas con problemas diversos para poder mejorar y crecer como persona, simplemente no deja de CRITICARLOS y JUZGARLOS, juzgando su aspecto físico, su forma de ser, cuando todos están ahí porque claramente tienen problemas muy fuertes (como anorexia, abuso en sus familias). Esa escena simplemente dejó claro que Julia no es un personaje para empatizar, y es el tipo de persona con el que nunca me quiero cruzar en mi vida.

Este libro fue rapidísimo de leer, felizmente, porque no lo hubiera aguantado más. El 0.5 más es porque al final me hizo llorar. Pero eso no perdona lo que este libro hizo.
Profile Image for Maria.
157 reviews88 followers
June 22, 2022

One of the best coming of age stories of the modern area.

Not only does it touch on so many concerns of today's teens and children of immigrants in general, but Julia was the most accurate depiction of a teenager I've seen in a long time. She's acts exactly how a regular 16 year old would act, meaning well and making the best decisions she can with the limited resources available to her.
Profile Image for Andrea.
135 reviews59 followers
March 27, 2019
~3 Stars~
I went into this book, skeptical. And honestly, I was right to be so.
After reading it, I didn't feel any sense of closure. They storyline was also alot darker than I expected. I mean, I was hoping for more than the occasional humor.
Half the time I was bored and the other half I was indifferent. I never built any strong ties to the characters or book in general.
As for the portrayal of culture in this book, I thought this was a missed opportunity.
As a Mexican American, I take note that
it's not everyday that we see a YA book exclusively about Mexican-American culture. I was hoping the main characters culture would play a bigger role. If the title didnt have the word "mexican" this story could be about anyone.
Still, it wasn't bad. It could have been alot better, though.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 42 books88.6k followers
February 25, 2020
I've been meaning to read this blockbuster YA novel for a long time, so was glad that my children's/young-adult literature reading group chose it for our next meeting. I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Rebecca Woodward.
275 reviews151 followers
August 22, 2018
This is one of those reads where you liked the storyline and The characters but it’s missing something. I was intrigued by the synopsis of the story more then the actual read.
Profile Image for Nicole aka FromReading2Dreaming.
259 reviews67 followers
June 27, 2018

***3.75 Stars***

This book has to be one of the few books out there that represents what it is like to be a Mexican-American. I haven't read another book that has come close to representing what it is like to a Mexican-American.

The story is about Julia, a girl who wants to go to college, despite having many hurdles that are keeping her from this. The one major issue that I had with this book was how the little summary on the inside cover had it seem like this girl is going to be going on this long journey to find out her dead sister's secrets. But that only takes up maybe less than 8% of the book. The rest is about Julia wanting to go to college and struggling with her grief and helicopter mother. I would have liked this book more if it hadn't given false description on what the book was about. One of the characters it mentions on the inside cover doesn't even appear until 170 pages in, ay, dios mío.

The suicide, rape, and cutting in this book was very unexpected. When I got to those parts in the book it unsettled me because I wasn't expecting it; I guess you could call it a plot twist, but I don't really see it as that. It was more of an unpleasant surprise. I know people deal with these issues, and I have read books on these issues in the past, but for a reader that could have PTSD because of issues like these, and not know it would be in the book, it would not be the best situation. I just wish I would have known there was sensitive topics in this book is all.

I have to admit the only reason I'm giving it 4 stars is because of the representation it gives for Mexican-Americans. The plot got boring at times and I often found myself wondering when it would get back to finding out the secrets of Julia's dead sister. Overall, I'd say good representation, but the rest of the book was lack luster.
Profile Image for Val.
61 reviews52 followers
July 28, 2021
2.75🌟 Créanme, no hay nada de malo en ser una perfecta hija mexicana. Entiendo totalmente la crítica a todo lo malo de la forma de vida mexicana, lo sé de primera mano porque he vivido aquí toda mi vida. El problema es que la autora, a través de los ojos de Julia, la protagonista, hace parecer como si las mexicanas no tuviéramos sueños más grandes, como si nosotras no quisiéramos ir a la universidad, como si no quisiéramos superarnos o peor aún, como si hacer tortillas y comer con tu familia extensa fuera algo malo. Que repito, en México todas las mujeres seguimos sufriendo de actos machistas, sexistas y seguimos siendo oprimidas hasta el día de hoy, pero no es como si no nos diéramos cuenta y lo dejáramos pasar hasta que una persona que vive en Estados Unidos viene a decirnos todo lo que está mal porque “estamos ciegas, es la costumbre de México” y no quieren “ser como nosotras”. Hubiera preferido que mantuvieran el título del libro como “La hija que no soñaste”, pero bueno.
Las 2 estrellas y cachito son por cómo se manejó el tema de la depresión y por los padres de Julia y Olga, que son indocumentados y el libro muestra una muy cruda realidad de lo que se vive.
Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,757 reviews754 followers
December 12, 2021
Before I start this review I do have to mention trigger warnings for suicide, cutting and rape. That being said, this book is just so heartbreaking and yet touching at the same time. I felt so many different emotions while reading this that I can’t even begin to list them all. It is a big of a darker story which I wasn’t expecting when I picked it up and it was a very pleasant surprise. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before, I was glued to my seat from the very first page, quite literally. Seriously, I was so damn riveted by what I was reading. It’s just so dark and yet beautiful at the same time and I haven’t enjoyed the hell out of a book like this in a damn long time. Now add to all that the fact that it’s written by an Own Voices author and allowed me to learn more about the beautiful and stunning Mexican culture that I shamefully know so little about and I’m just beyond in love with this story. It’s my first time reading anything really centred on Mexican culture and I’m not in any way satisfied, I DESPERATELY need more books like this in my life! It’s just so rich and beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time and I’m quite breathless after finishing this book.
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,191 reviews724 followers
October 8, 2017
More than deserving of its National Book Award Finalist status, this novel is a stunning story of heritage, family and growing up.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Sanchez has taken a teenage girl and created one of the most relatable characters I have read yet in young adult literature. Julia and her family and the Chicago setting are absolute perfection, and readers will get swept up into both Julia's grief over the loss of her sister, but also her agony about being trapped into a life that she doesn't want. The mystery of her sister Olga's death and Julia's attempts to escape her family create subplots that make this title a incredibly compelling page-turner as well.

What seals the 5th star for this title for me, however, is the complete and utter ease that Sanchez weaves English and Spanish throughout the narrative, sometimes translating the Spanish and sometimes just leaving it out there because maybe the reader SHOULD be expected to speak and read a language other than English for once. Julia's accounts of her family's undocumented status and their harrowing journeys from Mexico are heartbreaking and 100% necessary and relevant, both for readers who are themselves living this life, but also for readers who struggle to understand the reality of living it.

Required purchase for high school libraries. Get this book into the hands of teens NOW.
Profile Image for Esther Kruman.
20 reviews16 followers
November 6, 2022
I wanted so badly to like this book, but I honestly don't think I would have even finished it if I hadn't been reading it for class. There are some major problems with it:


1. The portrayal of Amá made me increasingly furious throughout the book. She's a demonized, one-dimensional portrayal of a grieving mother. And by demonized, I mean she's a caricature of an emotionally abusive mother. The writer attempts to shoehorn in some sympathy for her towards the end, but it falls flat because, again, she's literally an abuser.

2. In fact, pretty much any characters who clash with Julia's worldview are set up as Straw Men. There is no nuance whatsoever. And I'm saying this as someone who disagrees with those Straw Men characters; it's just that I'm not interested in oversimplifying other perspectives, even if those perspectives are genuinely problematic. You can much more effectively respond to those perspectives if you actually acknowledge their arguments. And again, the characters end up reading more like caricatures.

3. Speaking of caricatures, Juanga is a homophobic stereotype. A few quotes:

"Lorena has a new friend at school who's gay as a rainbow-colored unicorn."

"Shopping, partying, and… fucking" are Juanga's self-cited interests.

"Juanga, who is clearly obsessed with all things penile, starts talking about the different shapes he's seen in his life."

Even worse, when Lorena (Julia's best friend) calls her out on being homophobic, Julia shoots down the accusation with this gem: "Seriously? How many times have we gone to the Pride Parade? Who introduced you to Rocky Horror Picture Show? And The L-Word? Get out of my face with that." Participating in gay culture does not absolve you from homophobia.

4. Julia just isn't a likable character. She's judgmental and hypocritical. One thing that really irritated me was the way she presents herself as a feminist (typically by calling out Straw Man sexism), but she is constantly slut-shaming people, including her best friend. (Just in general, they have a really unhealthy friendship.)

I can cut Julia a little slack for the internalized misogyny in the sense that she is only a teenager, but I could never look past how arrogant and actively cruel she is towards everyone. And also how aware she is of her own arrogance! When she's called out for being too hard on people and acting like she's too good for everything, Julia responds, "That's because I am too good for everything!"

I'm all for flawed characters, but at a certain point, you need to be able to empathize with them. The book opens with Julia mocking her dead sister's corpse, and it's all downhill from there.

5. There's a super triggering part of the book when and there is no time at all for readers to mentally prepare themselves. The way it's revealed is, as I said, triggering and completely irresponsible for a YA novel.

6. Anorexia is briefly and dangerously romanticized when a hospitalized teen's dangerous weight is explicitly given and she is still lauded for her beauty. This is the full passage, with the number hidden as a spoiler:

"Tasha is always saying horribly beautiful things like that. Sometimes I want to write them down. She's anorexic and probably doesn't weigh more than Her wrists look fragile and breakable, and her long, skinny braids seem too heavy for her small body. Although she's emaciated, I can see that she's beautiful. Her eyelashes are stupidly long, and she has the kind of mouth that begs for bright red lipstick."

7. Finally, and this is a smaller thing after all that, I thought that the whole mystery around her dead sister was totally unnecessary. It would have been much more powerful for her to grapple with her already complex emotions. It also bothered me because Julia kept claiming that no one really knew her sister, based on the thing she eventually discovers. Julia never really knew her sister, but the discovery she makes does not actually erase everything else that her sister was to all the other people in her sister's life (or even in Julia's life). The whole thing just cheapened her sister's death.


There were a few things that I did appreciate:

1. It's obviously important to have PoC protagonists, especially in children's/YA literature. As I'm not Mexican, I don't think it's my place to determine how effective or accurate this representation was.

2. Julia comes from a low-income family and a lot of her struggles with that deeply resonated with me.

3. In stark contrast to the aforementioned anorexic patient, Julia's disordered eating habits were portrayed especially well.

4. The writing was hit-or-miss, but there were a few really nice descriptions here and there, as well as a couple beautiful poems.
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,225 reviews391 followers
July 20, 2018
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an eARC I got from the publisher via NetGalley as a staff reviewer for YA Books Central.

Representation: almost everyone is Latinx, specifically Mexican/Mexican-American; A gay character named Juanga is a minor character; Julia attempts suicide, but it is only vaguely described and her recovery from depression is very therapy/medication-positive; Julia is overweight and her family is pretty darn poor

Warning: book has a suicide attempt in it, but it goes without description until the final chapter. Even then, it’s only vaguely described.

First off, go read Latinx reviewers’ opinions and reviews of this book, especially if they’re Mexican/Mexican-American like Julia and her family. Boost their voices instead of white voices like mine. I’m reviewing I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter mostly because it’s something that’s right as a reviewer who requested the book, but I also want to say this book is good. There’s a reason it’s made the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature!

White people like me are unlikely to get this book or get much from it either. It’s just a fact because this book is for and about all the Latinx kids chafing in their households and family traditions but still in love their heritage and culture because identity is cimplicated. Some of what Julia lives with because it’s a Mexican thing or just something her mom Amá just does are downright abusive. Even after learning about what Amá went through and why she is the way she is, it’s hard to forgive her for the way she treated Julia. Insulting Julia to her face so many times! Good God!

Julia is an abrasive girl narrating a very character-driven book, so her personality will either make it or break it for readers. She’s also diagnosed with depression later in the book, adding dimension to portrayals of the disease. The mere word makes you think “sadness all the time,” but that isn’t always how you see it. Some people, like Julia, are constantly angry instead. There is no single way depression expresses itself and we can’t forget that. What’s undeniable above all is how well-written Julia is in her fury and familial claustrophobia.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is very pro-medication/therapy for dealing with mental illness too. I swear, I’m going to start a definitive list of books like these for teens because THERAPY AND MEDICATION THAT FIGHTS BACK AGAINST MENTAL ILLNESS IS GOOD. DON’T LET THE STEREOTYPES ABOUT THE TWO STOP YOU.

My one true sticking point comes when Julia insults someone’s hair by saying the woman has an “asexual mom haircut.” I don’t appreciate my sexuality or anyone else’s used as an insult! (Well, except for heteros because it doesn’t hurt anyone, participate in systemic discrimination, or happen all that often, which therefore makes it hilarious. See: white people jokes.)

My best friend is Latina with roots stretching from Mexico to Peru. Her first language was Spanish and she was downgraded from advanced classes in junior high to regular-level classes for the first half of high school because her eighth-grade English teacher didn’t think she spoke well enough to remain in advanced classes despite having excellent grades. Her relationship with her family as of late has also been very complicated.

If she were a fan of prose novels, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is THE book I’d hand to her. Something tells me she’d find a kindred spirit in Julia. I hope its place on the NBA longlist will help get it into the hands of more Latinx teens who need it! If you’re a white person like me, I hope you do your part to get this book to the readers it’s for. If you’re not, I doubt you needed me to tell you this book is worthwhile. You’re smart like that.
Profile Image for Dakota★Magic in Every Book.
700 reviews114 followers
April 18, 2018
The synopsis for this book seems a bit misleading. It focuses a lot on the mystery of Julia's recently deceased sister and the secrets she was keeping, but those are only small bits of the story, while the main focus is Julia's mental health and the conflicting desires of her family and their cultural expectations and Julia's desire for a less traditional life.

This book is a really intense look at depression and there is a suicide attempt, so please be aware of those triggers before picking up the book. I had mixed feelings about this book because the up-close and personal look at depression wasn't what I had expected and it was very emotional for me, since I'm struggling with my own mood at this time. Even so, watching Julia face her depression and then grow and learn to live in a happier and healthier manner was really fulfilling and the growth and change in Julia's point of view was very satisfying.

I'd say this book is probably closer to a 3.5, falling short of 4 stars due to my mistaken idea of the book and also because the books pacing is fairly slow. The book is more focused on Julia as a character and exploring her struggles, rather then it being driven by a specific plot angle. This caused it to drag a bit in the middle. Still, it's a powerful book and explores depression and mental health through the lens of a first generation Mexican-American teen. It's a much-needed book for its representation and it tells it's story well.
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