I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Copyright Date: 2017
Reading Age: 14-17
Reading Level: Grades 9-12
Awards: National Book Award Finalist
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Julia is in mourning. Her older sister Olga has just died in a tragic accident, but their parents can't seem to acknowledge Julia's grief. They have lost their perfect daughter, and Julia's mother constantly points out the many ways that Julia has failed. Driven to figure out what exactly happened to her sister, Julia and her best friend Lorena depart on a mission to dig up the mystery behind who Olga really was.
Julia has a lot of things going on. She is a person of color in the United States. She is grieving her older sister Olga. She is experiencing the twin mental health issues of anxiety and depression. Her parents do not want to acknowledge the grief or mental health of their surviving daughter. Instead, they are emotionally abusive, continuously comparing Julia to her dead sister, causing her to feel that she will never be enough for them. When Julia decides to take back some of her own autonomy and investigate her sister's death, the narrative begins to really get going. Julia and her best friend Lorena try to solve the mystery that was Olga. The story examines clashing with the expectations of one's parents and one's culture and desiring to grow beyond those things. Julia soon discovers Olga was not the perfect Mexican daughter everyone—including her parents—thought she was. This book is really good at exploring the different ways people with depression can behave. Some are outwardly compassionate, dedicated to portraying a certain image. Others end up being self-absorbed and angry. Both of these behaviors are legitimate ways of dealing with depression, and Sanchez describes them without judgement. This book also honestly discusses what it is like to be pressured to behave in certain cultural ways that may be the norm for one generation but not another, a common experience for children of immigrants. Julia wants to go to college and become a writer, something her parents cannot understand. It also examines what a life of privilege might be when Julia confronts the world her parents came from.
Olga was the perfect daughter, but after she dies in a tragic accident, Julia begins to feel that pressure to be perfect, too. As Julia looks into her sister's life, she begins to find that that ideal of perfection was an illusion.
About the Author
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. Her memoir Crying in the Bathroom is forthcoming from Viking in 2022.
Erika was a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, and a recent recipient of the 21st Century Awardfrom 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. 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. (About the author and photo can be found here.)
Julia is a first-generation child of immigrant parents. Discuss some of the ways this is handled in the book.
Discuss the concept of perfection and how that puts pressure on children and teens.
Challenge issues: violence, suicide, underage drinking, drug use, teen sexuality, strong language
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Why Included -
This novel looks at the expectations and stereotypes of being Mexican-American while discussing the concept of the not-favorite child, something many teens will identify with. Examining the pressures parents put on their children, the story digs into the perfect child ideal and how damaging that can be.