Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Narrated by: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)
I listened to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter on audiobook and it is definitely the fastest I’ve ever listened to an audiobook! I LOVED IT!
I’ve written a few times about how I don’t love fiction audiobooks because I think they can be very unforgiving of an author’s writing and for some reason hearing fiction read out loud always seems to make the writing sound cheesy or lame. I think non-fiction translates better to audiobooks overall, but this is hand-downs my favourite fiction audiobook that I’ve listened to and I think the narrator, Kyla Garcia is TOPS!
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a National Book Award finalist in the young readers category and tells the story of Julia, a teenage daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. Julia’s older sister Olga has just died tragically in a road accident and her whole family is reeling from the loss. Julia’s mother always viewed Olga as the perfect daughter and Julia’s sharp contrast from Olga creates a lot of tension with her mother, who doesn’t understand why Julia is so difficult.
Julia is 15/16 years old (can’t remember) and she is extremely brash and confrontational. She’s constantly picking fights with those around her, she lies to her parents, she can be vulgar, and she is of course, grieving. In the wake of Olga’s death, Julia starts to discover some of her sister’s secrets and finds that her sister may not have been as perfect as she led everyone to believe. She struggles to justify this new Olga with the sister she knew and in her grief, she acts out against her friends and family.
A lot of the reviews for this book are pretty critical of Julia and I can understand why a lot of readers didn’t like her. She’s not a particularly likable character, but like Scarlett O’Hara, her flaws were what I loved about her, and I definitely loved this character. I have to give some of the credit to the narrator because I thought she captured Julia’s voice and the tone of this novel perfectly. Her Mexican accent was fantastic and she absolutely read this like an angst-y, grief-ridden teenager.
Julia had a lot of spunk and while I couldn’t believe some of the things she was gutsy enough to say to people, I thought she was incredibly relatable as a teenage daughter of immigrants. She’s grown up in completely different circumstances than her parents and they struggle to relate to each other. She’s lived her whole life in the shadow of her perfect older sister and even though Julia is really smart and accomplished herself, she’s always been overshadowed by her sister in her parents eyes. She is critical of Olga’s desk job and can’t imagine settling for a job like that when she wants to be a writer, but her parents are critical of her dreams because they don’t believe a writer is a real job and as people who have done labour their entire lives, they can’t imagine anything better than Olga’s desk job.
Following the death of her sister, her mother suddenly wants to try and give Julia everything she was never able to give Olga. She fears for Julia’s safety and is extremely protective of her, forbidding her to go to parties or spend time with boys. But Julia just wants to live her life and the wedge between her and her mother only grows bigger. Julia becomes depressed and overwhelmed by the constant pressure to be more like Olga and how critical her mother is of everything she does and wants.
While I thought Julia sometimes took things too far, I was incredibly sympathetic for her. She is grieving and her world is crumbling and she has little support to navigate the scary new world around her. I thought this book was so well written and that Sanchez captured what its like to be a teenager so well.
The only reason I rated this 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars is because I didn’t love the last third of the book as much. Julia eventually goes off to Mexico for a period of time and I didn’t think this added a whole lot to the story overall. She does learn more about her family there and starts to better understand her mother, but I felt these epiphanies still could have happened in America and that removing her from America made us have to press pause on the rest of the drama in the story, which made it feel a little bit disjointed. There’s a lot of plot points that surface in the last few chapters of the story and they felt a little out of place because her trip to Mexico disrupted the flow of the story.
But overall, I absolutely loved this and I would highly recommend the audiobook. I’m not convinced I would have liked this quite as much if I’d read it because I thought the narrator did such a good job as Julia!