I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter: Book Review

by Sabrin Zahid, 2020

“How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”

I am  surprised with myself at how quickly I got through this book. I read it from start to finish in two days because  it was just so engaging. Sánchez first introduces the main character and narrator, Julia Reyes, narrating the death of her older, and innocent sister, Olga Reyes. Olga gets hit by a bus and is instantly killed. But the pain that remains for her family and friends isn’t. Julia’s mother is distraught by her perfect daughter’s death. Olga was everything Amá wished for in a daughter. She cooked with her, cleaned with her, and her only desire was  to stay home with her family until she got married and had children of her own.

Julia was another story. She was labeled the “difficult” and “weird” one of the family because she had ideas of her own. She desired to live independently, away from her family in New York, where she could be a famous and successful writer and have a sense of freedom from her overprotective parents. After Olga’s death, her mother’s strict rules only get worse. Julia has a habit of speaking her mind, particularly at times when it’s not considered polite to, like in church or in front of family members. Her words always seem to get her into trouble with her mother. Her father, referred to as Apá, is distant and quiet. He works all day at a candy factory only to come home and sleep on the couch. 

Still mourning  her sister’s death, Julia goes into Olga’s room and looks through her things, trying to get a sense of who she was.  Julia notes they had grown apart as Julia  got more “rebellious” only to find lingerie and a hotel key in her room. Shocked at what she finds, she takes them to her room and  thinks about the secret lives her not-so-innocent dead sister had been living, and the  secrets she kept from her entire family. The story follows Julia’s journey as she deals with romance and as she struggles with mental health issues. The last chapter of the book consists of a list of mental health resources for teenagers struggling with depression or any other disorder, which I thought was important considering the book talked a lot about mental health.

The book resonated with me, since the main character was a young girl growing up in America while being raised by parents who are from a different country. Following Julia’s life story in Chicago with her strict, yet caring and religious mother is something that I have lived with in my life. Her stories and experiences with her friends in relation to her family life confirm my thinking about how the differences in cultural norms between two very different countries can affect so many things about a person’s life, especially as a teenager.

These differences affect everything, from relationships with parents, relationships with friends, and romantic relationships as well. It’s a struggle having to juggle two different and opposing cultures while also being able to do what will make you happy as a person. What surprised me the most about this book was how well Julia and her mother began to understand each other, and get along so much better than they did before. It was nice to read about their relationship getting better, and how the resources Dr. Cooke provided for her helped her make the right choices and put her on the path for recovering her relationship with her mother.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter made me feel intense sadness, deja vu, and also happiness as I read Julia Reyes narrate the ups and downs of her life. Reading her story gave me a more positive outlook on my life. Since I could relate to her character so much, this novel gives me hope that life does get better if I continue to pursue  my dreams and do what will make me happy in life. I learned many lessons through this book about asking for help when I need it and being able to accept help from other people. I also learned that life does not always go as planned, and that it is important to accept what life throws my way, despite it not being what I originally planned. This book taught me to learn from Julia’s mistakes, to follow her in the right choices she made, and to keep an open mind about what I want out of life as well. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is one of my favorite books as of now, and I recommend this book to anyone who has the capability to read words on a page.


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