Erika L. Sanchez is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and essayist. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is her debut young adult novel and a National Book Award finalist. Soon to be a major Netflix film directed by America Ferrera, the novel follows a teenage girl called Julia. Julia has never been the perfect Mexican daughter - she abhors cooking and the thought of marriage and children. But when her older sister Olga dies in a tragic accident, she is left to piece her broken family back together. However, it doesn’t take long for Julia to discover that her sister was not as perfect as everyone thought.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a deeply moving novel. In large, this is down to the character of Julia. Julia can be unlikeable at times; she is opinionated and snarky, and her anger is explosive. But this is what makes the novel so great. Julia’s flaws and imperfections make her feel real, and resultantly, her character is very easy to connect to. Moreover, through Julia, Sanchez offers us an extremely interesting exploration of depression and mental health. Julia does not like herself, and she finds it difficult to like other people. In this sense, Sanchez provides us with a very real examination of depression and how it can manifest as anger and resentment. Sanchez shows that many teens act out because they are battling their own demons, just, like Julia.
Furthermore, Sanchez’s complex portrayal of Mexican culture is highly enjoyable as she paints a vivid picture of the Mexican community. Julia does not subscribe to the traditional beliefs her parents brought with them across the Mexican border. She is eager to leave home to attend college and become a writer, and she vows never to marry and have children. In addition, Julia is very vocal about her disbelief in Catholicism. Despite all of this, returning to Mexico after her suicide attempt helps cement Julia’s identity. Through spending time with her cousins and family, Julia begins to grow as a person. Here, Julia comes to understand her privilege as an American citizen and the trauma her parents endured crossing the Mexican border. By returning to her roots, Julia learns she can embrace her culture and still follow her dreams.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a poignant and important novel, and it is easy to see why it has been picked by TIME magazine as one of the best YA books of all time.