For book club’s September read, we decided to read something in honor of Hispanic History Month, with the poll results landing on I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. I hadn’t heard of the book beforehand, so I was yet again eager to read something that I wouldn’t have ordinarily chosen for myself.
Immediately, the book starts off with the funeral for main character Julia’s older sister, Olga. As Julia describes, she’s lost on how to feel, having always been in direct comparison to her perfect sister. They used to be close growing up, but as they hit their teenage years, they started to drift apart, with Julia becoming the outcast, the rebellious one, the troublemaker. She wants a lot out of life, desiring to be a famous writer and the envy of all, and she isn’t afraid to put herself out there. Olga was quieter, simplistic, eager to please, best friends with her mother… Julia’s complete opposite. Naturally, her traditional parents got along with Olga, so after Olga’s death, the family tension was thick with resentment.
Missing her sister but banned from Olga’s room by her mother, Julia ends up snooping around to find a box full of racy items that she can’t imagine belonging to her sister. This leads her to finding a key card to a local hotel, and then on the hunt for answers about her sister’s secret life. As the missing pieces of Olga’s life appear, Julia finds out more about herself and her family than she anticipated.
Overall, this novel sounds better in summation. Between the main character’s confrontational, callus, and abrasive manner, to the slow pace of the plot, I wasn’t overly impressed by Sánchez’s novel. I immediately disliked the main character and her narration. I understand that Sánchez is setting the type for Julia’s personality and laying the groundwork for why she isn’t the perfect Mexican daughter, but it was full of cliché statements, and gauche commentary. For example:
“I haven’t taken a crap in almost four days, but I’m not about to tell Amá in the state she’s in. I’ll just let it build until I explode like a piñata.”
Trying to look past these issue and focusing on the story, I kept reading in the hopes that our main character would grow up a little. In the end, she gains some maturity when she realizes that there is more to the world than her own personal problems, which lead me to enjoying the last quarter of the book.
Sánchez states that she wanted to write the type of novel that she wished was available when she was younger. Doing a little research, the author and main character are both daughters of undocumented Mexican immigrants, both from Chicago area, and both writers. I did like the aspect of the main character having some eye-opening incidents, and agreed with some of her political/world outlooks on the issues involving immigration and classism. Also as a white woman, I did find the commentary about “white people” jarring… there are so many things I didn’t see as a white privilege, like sledding, but I’m positive that’s the point Sánchez tried to make, allowing her readers to check their privilege and read from the point of view of a person of color. I also will admit, the use of an nontraditional main character gave me some serious emotional comparisons to Holden, the non-hero of The Catcher in the Rye… which is not a bad conclusion to make when talking literary comparisons.
In the end, I’m still on the fence about whether I’d recommend this read or not. I think that it takes a lot of interpretation to get to the important underlying factors in the novel, and the writing style with an imperfect main character is difficult to enjoy for many readers- especially for a teen/young adult book. So I’m going to leave it up to you all on this one. It’s too tough a call for me to make.