Review for "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" by Erika L. Sanchez (2017) Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Julia is a Mexican American teenager living in inner-city Chicago. In the first 25 pages we learn that her life really sucks: her older, “perfect” sister Olga has just been run over by a bus, her dad stays drunk and emotionally unavailable, and her overly domineering mother projects all of the expectations that she had for her older daughter onto Julia. As a result, Julia stays depressed and angry, transferring her rage back onto her family and the people around her.
While it’s an understandable anger that this character has, man…I’ve never read a YA book with a character this unbelievably gross. Julia is truly a monster that is equal parts cruel and arrogant, with a haughty demeanor to match. I can understand sarcasm, dark humor, or even a whip-smart kinda protagonist, but this character is just a plain jerk. All throughout the novel she internally mocks and belittles the people around her, even her own sister in her casket. When she speaks she is not nice either, cursing at folks, whining, and talking down to people unless it involves something she enjoys. It seems that the author wants us to empathize with Julia’s plight, but this was not possible for me. There was really nothing redeeming about her character here at all. Nothing.
There are plot problems too. Very early on in the novel Julia discovers a possible secret that her deceased sister kept from everyone, but then this story line is abruptly dropped. It’s picked up again and we learn a little more about it, but then it’s dropped again, picked up a little later on, then dropped again. This goes on for 250 pages or so. By the time the “secret” is revealed, it’s not really a secret anymore and you already know what happens, nor do you care. Also a problem was the multitude of issues in this book being juggled around in a maddening circle–abortion, teen sex, rape, mental illness, suicide, class issues, racism, being an undocumented immigrant, LGBTQ issues–with such minimal focus devoted to each that you’d rather the author had just chosen two or three issues and written accordingly. For this reason ending seemed terribly rushed to me.
Lastly, at about 60% in, there is a romance in this novel. Julia meets a wealthy young white man in a book store and within 10 pages, they’re kissing. In another 15 pages, they’re meeting up over at his place and having sex. The too-instant nature of their supposed attraction makes no sense to me, given just how plain evil Julia is toward everyone else in the book. I realize it’s YA and romance is practically a requirement in this genre, but I dunno…I just didn’t like it.
While I didn’t like this book, I do recommend you read it. It appears to be quite popular on Goodreads and with online reviewers, so everyone’s bound to have an opinion on it some way or another. My advice to the author: not terrible for a first time writer, but if you’re going to go the unlikable main character route, there has to be something else, that oompf factor to compel the reader to want to like reading forward. This wasn’t it.