Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Read With Us: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I'm not sure that I can add very much to Kym's excellent introduction of our current Read With Us book, but I will try. Kym explained how and why we chose I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and the value of keeping an open mind while you read because it is young adult fiction. 

When I worked in an elementary school library, the librarian and I spent a lot of time discussing ya fiction. She had a theory that authors of ya fiction often wrote better books than authors of adult fiction because they had to write things better, more succinctly, and more clearly without dumbing those ideas down to their intended audience. I'll let you be the judge of whether Erika L. Sánchez accomplished that or not as she tells the story of Julia, a confused, miserable, and angry daughter of Mexican immigrants. She's also grieving because her perfect older sister has been killed in an accident, and this leads her to feel her parents' disappointment in her even more intensely. In an interview, the author says, "Sometimes she says unkind things because she is in so much pain. Julia is the kind of girl who will say exactly what she feels, and I hope that readers become intrigued by that, particularly young women of color. We’re rarely allowed to be flawed in literature, and I’m so tired of that."

In the same interview, the following question was asked, and I thought Erika L. Sánchez's response was an interesting one:

"Julia is a wonderfully complex and interesting character who is a big reader and who wants to become a writer. Aside from the fact that you’re a writer, why did you put a budding author at the center of your debut novel?

People often wonder if I'm Julia, but the truth is that she is smarter and funnier than I ever was as a teenager. There are definitely many parts of myself in her, but I didn't want to be limited by my own experiences. However, I decided to write about a budding writer because young girls of color don't often see themselves portrayed as storytellers. I want them to know that they can have a voice, that it's okay to dream big. Also, the world needs to know that brown girls can be intellectual, that they can have complex inner lives. We're not a homogenous group of people like the media would lead you to believe."

One more thing; Erika L. Sánchez is also a poet. Her poems are not light and pretty; the Washington Post called her "fierce and assertive". Since it is National Poetry Month:

All of Us 
Erika L. Sánchez

Every day I am born like this—
No chingues. Nothing happens
for the first time. Not the neon
sign that says vacant, not the men
nor the jackals who resemble them.
I take my bones inscribed by those
who came before, and learn
to court myself under a violence
of stars. I prefer to become demon,
what their eyes cannot. Half of me
is beautiful, half of me is a promise
filled with the quietest places.
Every day I pray like a dog
in the mirror and relish the crux
of my hurt. We know Lilith ate
the bones of her enemies. We know
a bitch learns to love her own ghost.

Copyright © 2018 by Erika L. Sánchez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

We're reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter this month. Local libraries are closed, but you can find the book on Amazon ($7.39 for the dead-tree version and $10.99 for the Kindle version), and both audio and digital versions may be available to borrow on Overdrive. Next month, we're changing up the discussion format a little bit to something that we hope will be new and exciting. On May 12 you'll find a book discussion question on each of our blogs and on May 19 we're going to host a real-time, Zoom book discussion get-together. (Details to follow.) As a white 62-year-old woman living in central NJ, I know very little about the things that Erika L. Sánchez writes about. I look forward to reading and learning.
I hope you can obtain a copy of the book . . . and Read With Us! 


  1. I am almost finished with this book and I'm really enjoying it. I've read some reviews from readers who don't like the book because they don't like Julia (and boy are they critical of her!) but I think Julia is a wonderful character. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

  2. I think your librarian friend was spot on in her assessment of YA literature and its challenges. Teens, in my experience, have a very low BS threshold. They have little patience for insincerity or anything trite or cutesy. Most of the good YA fiction I've read has been, to generalize, a bit depressing, but I think that's what makes it so realistic. I remember how hard it was to be a teen (particularly a teen girl), and the successful YA fiction I've read really does a good job of capturing that angst. I think this book is in that category, but I think what sets it apart is that it deals with the additional pressures of being a first-generation child of immigrant parents. I'm looking forward to our discussion!

  3. Thanks for this excellent post, Bonny. You've described exactly what we were hoping to discover through this book -- including supporting an author of color who is using her own, authentic voice! I started reading the book just last night, and before I opened the cover, I did my best to channel 13-year-old Kym. I want to read this book through that "lens" of myself.

  4. I love the poem! I did not know the author was a poet and that is most interesting. I am looking forward to the discussion! :)

  5. I, too, did not know that Erika Sanchez is a poet and boy that is correct - her poems are not light and pretty!! But the one you show certainly makes you think. I'm looking forward to our discussion too!

  6. just downloaded the book, thanks

  7. I've read about 6 chapters so far and I'm enjoying it!

  8. I think you know that I read this book a while back, and I really enjoyed it. I was dubious, but I found the characters to be well written, and the story universal. Looking forward to discussing it as I think there are lots of things that can be discussed. It's a great book club read.

  9. Replies
    1. I'm thrilled to hear this and hope you can join in the discussions!

  10. I love the TITLE so much ! So honest. So real

  11. I just started my first May bookclub book today. This one comes next. I LOVE the way y'all are going to have the discussion next month! I participated in my 2nd Zoom bookclub last night and as much as I miss seeing folks IRL, the bookclub part is actually a lot better on Zoom. No side conversations. Only one person talking at a time. It's easier to moderate. AND it's great to share video clips (one person shares their screen). Also, no one had to drive in the dark :-)

  12. I was able to get the book on Overdrive audio and also purchased from my LBS. I am trying to patronize them as much as possible. Long live bookstores! Sanchez's poetry is raw and realistic, her voice is authentic.


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