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Book Review

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Julia Reyes is a 15-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her 22-year-old sister, Olga, was recently hit by a bus and killed. Julia’s mother, Amá, is a housecleaner. Her father, Apá, is a worker at a candy factory. They have always been over-protective of her. Amá gives Julia even less freedom now that her sister is gone.

Everyone believed Olga was the perfect daughter, one who attended church and community college classes, had no social life and never shamed the family. But when Julia discovers skimpy underwear, a hotel key and love notes in Olga’s room, she wonders what secrets her sister was keeping.

Julia is rarely allowed to leave the house after Olga’s death. When she does, she often parties with her friend, Lorena. While Julia wasn’t close to her sister, she still feels a deep sense of grief and loss. She launches her own covert investigation, trying to determine whether Olga’s friend Angie or any of her other acquaintances knew anything about a secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

Julia deals with other life changes during this time as well. Lorena has become best friends with a flamboyantly gay young man who calls himself Juanga. They drink, party and do drugs to a level that makes Julia feel uncomfortable. Regretting that she never gave Olga a quinceañera, Amá decides to spend thousands of dollars they don’t have to throw one for Julia.

Julia is almost 16 and dreads the whole affair. Julia meets a rich white boy named Connor in a bookstore and, when Julia can get out of the house, they begin spending time together. Julia is anxious to leave Chicago and her parents’ apartment when she graduates. She loves writing and reading, and her English teacher helps her apply to colleges.

Julia becomes increasingly depressed and emotional as her mother removes even more of her freedoms. She cries frequently to Connor on the phone. Frustrated, he tells her he doesn’t know how to help her. She takes Connor’s comments as a suggestion that they should break up.

Julia wakes up in the hospital, remembering how she slit her wrists the night before. She is diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. In addition to medication, she will attend regular counseling sessions and spend a week in an outpatient group therapy setting.

Once her outpatient treatment is complete, her parents send her to visit relatives in Mexico. She’s initially unhappy with the arrangement, but she soon realizes the change in surroundings is good for her. Just before leaving for Mexico, she discovers Olga’s internet password and reads messages between Olga and her lover. She learns Olga’s boyfriend was a married doctor who kept promising to leave his wife.

The slower pace of life in Mexico with relatives energizes Julia. She even has a short-term romance with a boy she meets there. Her grandmother shares a dark secret: Amá was raped as she was crossing the boarder from Mexico into the United States. This realization helps Julia develop more sympathy toward her mother.

When Julia returns to Chicago, she’s determined to be more understanding of Amá. She reconnects with Connor and tells him where she’s been and what’s happened, a little at a time. She learns Olga was pregnant when she died, and she tracks down the boyfriend. He cries and says he really did love Olga. He and his wife are now divorced. He gives Olga’s ultrasound picture to Julia.

Julia’s depression improves with counseling and medication. She and Connor spend time together again. Her relationship with her parents improves, and she develops a friendship with Juanga. She’s most excited when she gets a full scholarship to a college in New York.

Christian Beliefs

Julia’s mother is Catholic and attends prayer meetings at her church. Julia says Amá thinks everyone is a Satanist. She and her mother frequently argue about faith because Julia feels the Catholic church hates women and wants them to be weak and ignorant.

Julia calls faith in Jesus a sack of crap. She comments on her mother’s cheap religious décor. A woman on the street tells Julia that Jesus loves her, but Julia says He doesn’t.

She speaks about God to an old man who helps her because she says it’s important to sound religious when talking to old people. Julia says she’s trying to be a better daughter when she returns from Mexico so she attends a prayer meeting with Amá.

A woman there prays and says she hopes people will find the love and understanding they’re seeking because God lives in each of them. Julia gets into an argument with a man at the meeting who is concerned about his son’s homosexuality. Julia is angry because she doesn’t understand why the man feels he needs to forgive his son. She angrily tells him Jesus preached we should love everyone.

Other Belief Systems

Lorena’s mom worships various saints, including a skeleton saint named Santa Muerte. She dresses it and leaves sacrificial items for it. Julia’s aunt in Mexico does a ritual cleaning on Julia, putting crosses and egg on her body. Julia says after death there is only the transfer of energy and a return to dirt.

Authority Roles

Amá has experienced significant pain and loss in her life. She keeps a tight rein on Julia, causing the girl to feel suffocated. Apá works long hours and has given up things he loves, such as painting, in order to support his family. Julia’s teacher mentors her and helps her with college applications, telling her she’s one of the most gifted students he’s ever had.

Profanity/Violence

The Lord’s name is used in vain frequently. Words including the f-word, a--, s---, balls, p---, crap, d--n, b--ch, sucks, h---, whore, screw and douche appear regularly.

Julia talks about how her sister’s body was not just hit, but smashed, by a semi. The book includes a graphic description of Julia’s relatives in Mexico slaughtering a pig.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Julia mentions her large boobs often and talks about how men stare at them. Lorena says Julia dresses like a homeless lesbian.

One of Julia’s uncles sometimes sticks his finger in her mouth when no one is looking. He tries it when she’s 15, and she bites his finger until it bleeds. She wonders how another of her uncles has sex with his wife because she’s so fat. She mentions how she hopes she never has to hear her parents having sex.

Julia gets her first kiss from a friend of Lorena’s boyfriend. Juanga is shocked to learn that Julia is a 15-year-old virgin. Julia and Connor kiss, and she begins to wonder how she’ll know when she’s ready for sex. She asks Lorena for advice. Lorena tells her she needs to shave her p---y before she goes to Connor’s house.

Julia also stops for condoms on the way, just in case he doesn’t have them. The book provides some detail about their sexual encounter. Julia feels embarrassed afterward, even though she says she knows sex isn’t evil and it is something normal, functioning mammals do.

Amá catches her with Olga’s skimpy underwear and thinks they belong to Julia. Julia’s counselor asks if she and her mother ever talked about sex. Julia replies that her mother’s comments indicate sex is the most evil thing unmarried people can do. The counselor assures Julia that sex is a normal part of the human experience and that it’s unfortunate so many people attach shame to it.

Julia describes her friend Lorena as slutty. Julia chides her for never using a condom. When Lorena misses a period, Julia goes with her to get a pregnancy test at a clinic. Lorena says there is no way she will have a baby, and she will use money she’s taken from her stepfather if she needs an abortion.

Protestors accost the girls. They hold signs and tell the girls they will burn in hell for aborting a child. The girls are excited and relieved when they learn Lorena isn’t pregnant. Lorena’s stepfather once pushed her against the wall, crammed his tongue in her mouth and rubbed his penis against her leg.

Lorena’s friend Juanga is a gay teen. Julia feels a sense of relief when she attends a party with Lorena and Juanga. Everyone is either queer or trans-gender, so she doesn’t have to deal with creepy, leering men. Juanga’s father frequently kicks him out of the house, and Juanga runs off with various new boyfriends. His dad calls him names, tells him he will burn in hell and has even tried to perform an exorcism on him. Julia says Juanga is obsessed with all things penile. Julia applauds him for not letting his parents turn him into something he’s not.

Julia finds underwear in Olga’s room that she refers to as strange looking, like that of a hooker, and that it looks slutty and skanky. As Julia hunts for information about her sister, she learns Olga was having an affair with a married man. She also discovers Olga was pregnant when she died. Julia is given the ultrasound picture and says it feels like she’s holding on to a piece of her sister.

Julia learns that a teacher raped one of her current teachers when her teacher was 17. She also finds out her mother was raped while crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Julia helps her mother clean the house of a man with many statues of men and women in sexual positions.

At a school dance, Julia notes that the kids are dancing so close they are practically dry humping. She says that someone’s going to be pregnant by the end of the dance. She compares a bald guy at a party to a scrotum. Kids at the same party are shamelessly making out, and other kids are recording it on their phones. Julia sees the way two of her teachers look at each other and wonders if they’re boning.

When Julia is in Mexico, her grandmother tells her two of their cats are gay. Julia’s Mexican cousin gossips about a man who began dressing like a woman and became a prostitute. He got AIDS, and the cousin says people believe it was his own fault. Julia says she tries to explain that AIDS isn’t just a gay disease, but her cousin won’t listen.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Female body: Julia frequently lies about being on her period to get out of doing things. She’s discovered that this is particularly effective with male teachers because it makes them uncomfortable. Julia recalls her mother throwing her in the scalding hot shower after learning Julia hadn’t bathed for five days. Amá told her that girls who don’t wash their junk get infections. Julia often mentions her large boobs. She says she doesn’t know why her mother is paranoid about leaving her alone in her room, because there’s no way she’d try touching herself with her mother lurking around. She thinks maybe Amá is worried she will orchestrate an orgy or overdose on heroin. When Julia goes to visit Olga’s best friend, Angie, she can see the girl’s nipples through her robe. It reminds her of a time she walked in on the girls and saw Angie touching Olga’s breasts.

Alcohol and drugs: Teens, including Julia, Lorena and Juanga, frequently drink and get drunk and high at parties. Julia notes a pleasant warmth going through her body after having a lot to drink, and she says she can understand why so many people are alcoholics. Juanga is very drunk after a party, but Julia gets into the car with him since she has no other way home. Even Julia feels concerned about the erratic behavior she sees in Lorena and Juanga after their drinking and drug binges. Julia’s dad and uncles always get drunk when they get together.

Suicide: Julia slits her wrists. She ends up in a hospital and then an outpatient facility with other troubled teens. She is diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and is given medication. She also has to attend ongoing counseling. Another boy in her outpatient program also tried to kill himself by overdosing with some of his mother’s pills.

Anorexia: One of the girls in Julia’s outpatient program is anorexic.

Abuse: A boy in Julia’s outpatient program was whipped and beaten by his father. His dad even put a gun in his mouth. The boy is now in treatment for cutting himself.

Abortion: Julia has no problem with abortion and goes to a clinic with Lorena. At the same time, she notes that her sister’s ultrasound shows a “possibility” and she can almost feel its heartbeat in her hands. She keeps the ultrasound picture because it makes her feel like she still has a part of Olga with her.

Music: Lorena likes to listen to music about Mexican drug traffickers who buy expensive guns and cut off each other’s heads.

Feminism: The definition of womanhood is frequently explored. Julia rebels against her family’s cultural beliefs regarding what a woman should do and be. One example is Amá’s insistence that Julia have a quinceañera. Culturally, this means she can now dance and wear heels and make-up. Julia says if this is what womanhood means, she’s not sure she wants any part of it. Many men in the story ogle or abuse women.

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Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

15 to 17

Author

Erika L. Sánchez

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

A Borzoi book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

Released

On Video

Year Published

2017

Awards

National Book Award Long List, 2017

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.