Reviewed by Laura Ovenden
Part mystery and part coming-of-age novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter allows the reader to see the world through Julia’s eyes, a first-generation Mexican American whose life is about to unravel. This YA debut is already a New York Times bestseller; a film version is being made for Netflix and you soon realise why. Julia’s early voice is strident and acerbic. The opening line pulls no punches: ‘What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face‘. Gradually Julia uncovers secrets about her family and on occasions the reader’s sympathies may be misplaced as new information is revealed. The day-to-day hardships her parents face as undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are often difficult to comprehend.
Julia’s complicated relationship with her Ama is central to the plot. Her mother rejects Julia’s dreams of being a writer and simply wants her to get a job in an office with air-con. There are many episodes where I gasped, cringed or warmed unexpectedly to a character. The descriptions of the quinceanera party for Julia raise many questions about symbolism and cultural expectations of women, while Julia’s time back in Mexico allows both the character and the reader to pause and reassess the situation she finds herself in.
The novel belongs in every secondary library. It touches on many sensitive subjects such as mental illness, teenage sex, racism and conflicting cultures but in ways that could lead to productive conversations. When her mother has to see the principal ‘for running my mouth’ , Julia gets annoyed that Ama always apologises: ‘She is always apologizing to white people, which makes me feel embarrassed. And then I feel ashamed of my shame’.
This new paperback edition includes a useful reading group guide, which could be used in a school book group. Secondary teachers and librarians will definitely need to read and discuss this powerful novel before deciding whether and how to read it in school but whether in school or not this is a YA novel that will become as popular as Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give as it is relevant, authentic and speaks from the heart.