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10 Reasons Why We Love Erika L. Sánchez’s Debut Novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Before I give you a whole bunch of great reasons to pick up Erika L. Sanchez’s novel and read it until there is no more to read, let us pause for a moment to thank J.K. Rowling for writing about young but complex characters in tough situations 20 years ago, opening the door to a whole new breed of young adult literature, which treats our middle readers with same respect as it does adults.

Rowling’s wake has been the path for cult sagas like the Twilight and Hunger Games and for gems like R.J. Palacios’ Wonder. Sanchez is next in line with I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, a coming of age story with a sassy female protagonist. Here are 10 reasons why we’re still obsessed with this remarkable YA book.

10 Sanchez Respects Her Readership

When it debuted in 2017, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was so prescient and well crafted, it went straight onto the nominee list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Like all of the best young adult writers, Sanchez refused to talk down to her audience. As a result, it was adored by critics and readers of all ages.


9 Her Protagonist is a Young and Empowered Female

We can always use more female protagonists, especially outspoken ones. Sanchez chooses to present Julia at age 15, almost a flash forward of heroines like Sheila the Great or Harriet the Spy or a slightly older Lisa Simpson, whom the author admires. She tells a coming of age story appeals to younger readers who have yet to experience it, to teenagers who can relate, and also to adults who remember it all too well.


8 The Author Nails the Issue of Authentic Representation

Unlike other books that are more typical tales of “anygirl,” Julia’s is a story that desperately needs telling. Julia is Latina, providing some welcome representation for brown girls. Her age, 15, is culturally loaded, with the impending ritual of the quinceañera, which we don’t often see in literature. A great metaphor for what is outdated or irrelevant to a new culture kid, the ritual is shown as a public presentation of the self at a moment when that self feels unsure, a specific spotlight on the protagonist’s coming into being as an intellectual and a feminist. Julia’s growing pains are as specifically Mexican-American as the snacks that Sanchez describes in the book.


7 The Protagonist Embraces Her “Imperfection” as Power

But Sanchez throws bigger obstacles in Julia’s path than just the average hormones and party dresses. Forced to grapple with loss, grief, sexual assault, and immigration, Julia faces problems that are beyond her years, some of them specific to her community. Uninterested in the apparent perfection that cultural norms demand from her, Julia is proud of her “imperfection,” which is really to say, her individuality, and distances from other’s expectations. To us, this a strength and not a flaw.


6 Our Heroine Learns to Advocate for Herself

Modeled after Sanchez’s own childhood, Julia’s takes place in Chicago in a working class family. After the loss of her older sister, the more-perfect character from the title, Julia has to cope with her grief and depression against a backdrop of a poverty. Judging by the fact that there are more Latino children living in poverty in the United States that any other race, this landscape may not be pretty but it’s real. Like Sanchez had to in order to become a writer, Julia learns how to advocate for herself. She is courageous and unafraid, a positive model to put out into the world, especially for young Latinas in similar situations without access to plentiful role models.


5 There are Strong Parallels Between the Author and Her Main Subject

Julia’s strength reflects her creator’s, who did not give up when her manuscript was originally rejected. Knowing that editors had simply never seen a Latina main character in a situation like Julia’s who behaved and spoke as she did. We are so glad Sanchez kept sending it out and love that she, like Julia, doesn’t give up.

4 Demons are Met with Courage

Similarly, there is an echo of Julia’s courage in Sanchez’s decision to make depression one of Julia’s monsters. Having suffered depression herself, Sanchez showcases mental illness, knowing from personal experience that it is a particularly taboo subject in Latino communities. The mental health conversation that Sanchez is starting is as important as the one about poverty. With young Latinas showing amongst the highest rates of suicide in the country, we need to do more to normalize the conversation about mental health, depression, and anxiety.

3 Spanglish Reigns Supreme

As the debate about bilingualism rages on in schools and town halls, Sanchez writes her novel in Spanglish, meaning in the stream of consciousness of her protagonist, without italics. Sanchez knows that many readers won’t readily understand the Spanish. She also knows that close to Americans will, and that number is growing everyday. Sanchez claims “not to care” about whether readers who have access to Spanish, but between deriving meaning from context and practicing empathy, which is the work that fiction encourages us to do, most readers can probably figure it out and learn something in the process.


2 We See and Feel the Author’s Essence

We love the novel and its protagonist because we love Sanchez. Raised by undocumented immigrants, she found herself driven to excel and dreamed of becoming a writer. She is the recipient of numerous degrees (from the University of Illinois and University of New Mexico) fellowships and scholarships from prestigious programs, such as Bread Loaf and Fulbright. Currently, Sanchez is the Princeton Art Fellow. Her poetry and prose have been published in Guernica, diade, The Paris Review, and The New York Times Magazine, among many, but perhaps none more famous than her love and sex advice column for Cosmo Latina (2012-15). By the age of 35 and through a lot of hard work, she is living her dream.


1 This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Grateful to have “tangible” results to share with her parents, in the form of her YA novel and a debut collection of poetry, entitled Lessons on Expulsion, Sanchez is already at work on a third book, a collection of essays, and welcomes film adaptations of her work.

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