Book Club: “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” brings community together for One Book One Valley
Editor’s note: This monthly-ish column by the Vail Daily’s entertainment editor will discuss what she’s reading currently and how it affects her life.
When One Book One Valley organizers announced that 2020’s book selection would be “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika Sánchez, I soon headed to the Bookworm of Edwards to pick up a copy. Besides high school, I’d never participated in a group reading or community read, and loved the idea of it.
One Book One Valley invites all Eagle County residents to read the same book each year, effectively creating a “community book club.” Representatives from the Bookworm of Edwards, Colorado Mountain College, the Vail Public Library and the Eagle County Library District select one book to promote. Most years, One Book One Valley also organizes community programming related to the book selection, but coronavirus has naturally derailed those plans.
Instead, organizers will host Sánchez for two virtual author events. The first is Thursday, Sept. 17, and the second is Saturday, Sept. 19. Both are free and start at 6 p.m. Zoom meeting ID numbers and instructions to log into the virtual event are available online at onebookonevalley.com.
While “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” sits in the young adult genre label, it reads as the protagonist’s personal account of high school, growing up poor on the south side of Chicago while grappling with the sudden death of her older sister.
The novel was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times bestseller.
Before I continue with my review, I am adding a content warning for mental health struggles, body image issues, self-harm and suicide attempt. Those who may be triggered by these themes would be wise to exercise caution and prioritize their safety before, during and after reading “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.”
Julia Reyes’ first-person narrative details how her sister Olga followed all the expectations her hard-working parents set for her: living at home, upholding traditional values and praying to God. Olga was killed when a truck hit her on one of Chicago’s busiest streets, and after her death, Julia’s own perceived shortcomings as the antithesis of the Perfect Mexican Daughter come into brighter view, just as she’s realizing her golden-child sister may have been just as flawed as she is.
Julia loves reading and dressing in black and listening to punk rock music. She gets uncomfortable watching her best friend hang out with some dude that’s 10 years older than they are (enough said there). She meets a smart, artsy boy from the suburbs and for a few moments, she’s in complete bliss. Of course, with most high school relationships, immaturity rears its head in the form of drama.
I’m not Mexican and I’m not from the south side of Chicago, but on other levels, I can absolutely relate to Julia. Clearly, I love reading because the Vail Daily pays me to read and write. On any given day, I’m wearing at least one clothing item that’s black, and sometimes I go full former New Yorker and wear all black. My first concert was Green Day and I still listen to Blink-182, especially when I’m getting ready to party. I certainly had some drama to deal with — boys and otherwise — when I was her age.
And yet, so much about Julia’s experience, influenced by Sánchez’s own experiences as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is completely novel to me. On surface levels, I had much more in common with Julia’s suburban boyfriend Connor; parents with white-collar jobs, a nice house and plenty of leisure time on the weekends. I’ve never found cockroaches in my closet. My parents work hard, but never to the point that they’re shells of who they are inside. There was always food in my fridge.
On an emotional sense, Julia grapples with something many teenagers deal with. “Why are my parents like this? Don’t they have any fun? Why are they so boring? Why are they always telling me everything I’m doing wrong?” And yet, there is so much of their lives that Julia doesn’t see until she experiences it: she helps her mom clean houses on the weekends, and she learns about her parents’ coming-to-America story from relatives she connects with deeply for the first time in Mexico. She ultimately comes to terms with her sister’s death, her role in the family and her parents’ fight to create a better life in a new country.
Of course, its not without struggles along the way. At the end of the book, Julia’s tone changes. She’s no longer a little sister figure in my mind. Before her transformation, I wanted to pick her up by the armpits, carry her out of the situation she was in, and plop her at New York University, where she dreamed of going to college. After her transformation, I smiled with pride at her ability to overcome what brought her down and find happiness and success.
I smiled because I saw myself in her.
Casey Russell is the entertainment editor and she also thought about going to NYU for a hot sec, and then she lived in New York and said, “thank god I didn’t do that.” Contact her at email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User