Published by Knopf BFYR on October 17, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: eARC via NetGalley, YA Books Central
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?
Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World
Racial-Ethnic: 5 (almost everyone is Latinx, specifically Mexican/Mexican-American)
QUILTBAG: 1 (A gay character named Juanga is a minor character)
Disability: 4 (Julia attempts suicide, but it is only vaguely described and her recovery from depression is very therapy/medication-positive)
Intersectionality: 5 (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.