The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home. 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?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterFeatured
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.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
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.
What worked: Right off the bat I totally loved this story. Think Jane The Virgin meets Real Women Have Curves. Julia isn't the stereotypical Latina protagonist. Yes, she is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and lives in the poorer part of Chicago. But the author shows her parents in a more realistic light. Julia's mother at times is overbearing, but readers sees glimpses of her vulnerabilities too. I also loved how Julia's father, though mostly silent, is a father who loves his daughters.
Kuddos for also breaking down the trite stereotypes of Latinos. Julia is smart, loves to read, and wants to go to college. Spanish is sprinkled throughout and shown in a realistic light. As someone who shares Mexican heritage, I loved being able to see a character that mirrors part of my own culture.
There's so many more themes going on in this novel. After her sister's tragic death, Julia searches to find out the 'truth' behind her almost saintly sister. She finds it hard to measure up to Olga. There's so many secrets her family hides from her. The scenes when she's with her grandmother in Mexico, sheds light on Julia's mother and family. There's also a romance between Julia and Connor, a white boy from Evanston. These scenes aren't rushed and also help Julia on her own path to discovery.
Humorous and poignant look at a sister dealing with the loss of her sister and coming to terms with the expectations of not only her Mexican immigrant parents but breaking down the stereotypes around her. A must read for those who love diverse contemporary stories with strong characters.
2. Think Jane The Virgin meets Real Women Have Curves