I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

by Erika L. Sánchez


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National Book Award Finalist!
Instant New York Times Bestseller!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home. 

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Alive and crackling—a gritty tale wrapped in a page-turner. ”—The New York Times
Unique and fresh.” —Entertainment Weekly

“A standout.” —NPR

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524700515
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 290
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.13(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet, a feminist, and a cheerleader for young women everywhere. She was the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas for three years, and her writing has appeared in the Rolling Stone, Salon, and the Paris Review. Since she was a 12-year-old nerd in giant bifocals and embroidered vests, Erika has dreamed of writing complex, empowering stories about girls of color—what she wanted to read as a young adult. She lives in Chicago, not far from the setting of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Erika is fluent in Spanish, Spanglish, and cat. You can find out more about her at erikalsanchez.com or @erikalsanchez.

Read an Excerpt


What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face. Her pale lips are turned up ever so slightly, and someone has filled in her patchy eyebrows with a black pencil. The top half of her face is angry--like she’s ready to stab someone--and the bottom half is almost smug. This is not the Olga I knew. Olga was as meek and fragile as a baby bird.

I wanted her to wear the pretty purple dress that didn’t hide her body like all of her other outfits, but Amá chose the bright yellow one with the pink flowers I’ve always hated. It was so unstylish, so classically Olga. It made her either four or eighty years old. I could never decide which. Her hair is just as bad as the dress--tight, crunchy curls that remind me of a rich lady’s poodle. How cruel to let her look like that. The bruises and gashes on her cheeks are masked with thick coats of cheap foundation, making her face haggard, even though she is (was) only twenty-two. Don’t they pump your body full of strange chemicals to prevent your skin from stretching and puckering, to keep your face from resembling a rubber mask? Where did they find this mortician, the flea market?

My poor older sister had a special talent for making herself less attractive. She was skinny and had an okay body, but she always managed to make it look like a sack of potatoes. Her face was pale and plain, never a single drop of makeup. What a waste. I’m no fashion icon--far from it--but I do feel strongly against dressing like the elderly. Now she’s doing it from beyond the grave, but this time it’s not even her fault.

Olga never looked or acted like a normal twenty-two-year-old. It made me mad sometimes. Here she was, a grown-ass woman, and all she did was go to work, sit at home with our parents, and take one class each semester at the local community college. Every once and a while, she’d go shopping with Amá or to the movies with her best friend, Angie, to watch terrible romantic comedies about clumsy but adorable blond women who fall in love with architects in the streets of New York City. What kind of life is that? Didn’t she want more? Didn’t she ever want to go out and grab the world by the balls? Ever since I could pick up a pen, I’ve wanted to be a famous writer. I want to be so successful that people stop me on the street and ask, “Oh my God, are you Julia Reyes, the best writer who has ever graced this earth?” All I know is that I’m going to pack my bags when I graduate and say, “Peace out, mothafuckas.”

But not Olga. Saint Olga, the perfect Mexican daughter. Sometimes I wanted to scream at her until something switched on in her brain. But the only time I ever asked her why she didn’t move out or go to a real college, she told me to leave her alone in a voice so weak and brittle, I never wanted to ask her again. Now I’ll never know what Olga would have become. Maybe she would have surprised us all.

Here I am, thinking all of these horrible thoughts about my dead sister. It’s easier to be pissed, though. If I stop being angry, I’m afraid I’ll fall apart until I’m just a warm mound of flesh on the floor.

While I stare at my chewed-up nails and sink deeper into this floppy green couch, I hear Amá wailing. She really throws her body into it, too. “Mija, mija!” she screams as she practically climbs inside the casket. Apá doesn’t even try to pull her off. I can’t blame him, because when he tried to calm her down a few hours ago, Amá kicked and flailed her arms until she gave him a black eye. I guess he’s going to leave her alone for now. She’ll tire herself out eventually. I’ve seen babies do that.

Apá has been sitting in the back of the room all day, refusing to speak to anyone, staring off into nothing, like he always does. Sometimes I think I see his dark mustache quivering, but his eyes stay dry and clear as glass.

I want to hug Amá and tell her it’s going to be okay, even though it’s not and never will be, but I feel almost paralyzed, like I’m underwater and made of lead. When I open my mouth, nothing comes out. Besides, Amá and I haven’t had that kind of relationship since I was little. We don’t hug and say, “I love you,” like on TV shows about boring white families who live in two-story houses and talk about their feelings. She and Olga were practically best friends, and I was the odd daughter out. We’ve been bickering, drifting away from each other for years. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to avoid Amá because we always end up arguing over stupid, petty things. We once fought about an egg yolk, for instance. True story.

Apá and I are the only ones in my family who haven’t cried. He just hangs his head and remains silent as a stone. Maybe something is wrong with us. Maybe we’re messed up beyond crying. Though my eyes haven’t produced tears, I’ve felt the grief burrow in every cell of my body. There are moments that I feel like I might suffocate, as if all my insides are tied into a tight little ball. I haven’t taken a crap in almost four days, but I’m not about to tell Amá in the state she’s in. I’ll just let it build until I explode like a piñata.

Amá has always been prettier than Olga, even now, with her swollen eyes and splotchy skin, which is not the way it’s supposed to be. Her name is more graceful, too--Amparo Montenegro Reyes. Mothers are not supposed to be more beautiful than their daughters, and daughters are not supposed to die before their mothers. But Amá is more attractive than most people. She hardly has any wrinkles and has these big, round eyes that always look sad and wounded. Her long hair is thick and dark, and her body is still slim, unlike the other moms in the neighborhood who are shaped like upside-down pears. Every time I walk down the street with Amá, guys whistle and honk, which makes me wish I carried a slingshot.

Amá is rubbing Olga’s face and crying softly now. This won’t last, though. She’s always quiet for a few minutes, then, all of a sudden, lets out a moan that makes your soul turn inside out. Now Tía Cuca is rubbing her back and telling her that Olga is with Jesus, that she can finally be in peace.

But when was Olga not in peace? This Jesus stuff is all a sack of crap. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. The only thing that makes sense to me is what Walt Whitman said about death: “Look for me under your boot soles.” Olga’s body will turn to dirt, which will grow into trees, and then someone in the future will step on their fallen leaves. There is no heaven. There is only earth, sky, and the transfer of energy. The idea would almost be beautiful if this weren’t such a nightmare.

Two ladies waiting in line to see Olga in her casket begin crying. I’ve never seen them in my life. One is wearing a faded and billowy black dress, and the other wears a saggy skirt that looks like an old curtain. They clasp each other’s hands and whisper.

Olga and I didn’t have much in common, but we did love each other. There are stacks and stacks of pictures to prove it. In Amá’s favorite, Olga is braiding my hair. Amá says Olga used to pretend that I was her baby. She’d put me in her toy carriage and sing me songs by Cepillín, that scary Mexican clown who looks like a rapist but everyone loves for some reason.

I would give anything to go back to the day she died and do things differently. I think of all the ways I could have kept Olga from getting on that bus. I’ve replayed the day over and over in my head so many times and have written down every single detail, but I still can’t find the foreshadowing. When someone dies, people always say they had some sort of premonition, a sinking feeling that something awful was right around the corner. I didn’t.

The day felt like any other: boring, uneventful, and annoying. We had swimming for gym class that afternoon. I’ve always hated being in that disgusting petri dish. The idea of being dunked in everyone’s pee--and God knows what else--is enough to give me a panic attack, and the chlorine makes my skin itch and eyes sting. I always try to get out of it with elaborate and not-so-elaborate lies. That time, I told the thin-lipped Mrs. Kowalski that I was on my period again (the eighth day in a row), and she said she didn’t believe me, that it was impossible for my period to be so long. Of course I was lying, but who was she to question my menstrual cycle? How intrusive.

“Do you want to check?” I asked. “I’d be very happy to provide you with empirical evidence if you want, even though I think you’re violating my human rights.” I regretted it as soon as it came out of my mouth. Maybe I have some sort of condition that keeps me from thinking through what I’m going to say. Sometimes it’s word-puke spilling out everywhere. That was too much, even for me, but I was in a particularly foul mood and didn’t want to deal with anyone. My moods shift like that all the time, even before Olga died. One minute I feel okay, and then all of a sudden my energy plummets for no reason at all. It’s hard to explain.

Of course Mrs. Kowalski sent me to the principal’s office, and as usual, they wouldn’t let me go home until my parents came to pick me up. This had happened several times last year. Everyone knows me at the principal’s office already. I’m there more often than some of the gangbangers, and it’s always for running my mouth when I’m not supposed to. Whenever I enter the office, the secretary, Mrs. Maldonado, rolls her eyes and clucks her tongue.

Typically, Amá meets with my principal, Mr. Potter, who tells her what a disrespectful student I am. Then Amá gasps at what I’ve done and says, “Julia, que malcriada,” and apologizes to him over and over again in her broken English. She is always apologizing to white people, which makes me feel embarrassed. And then I feel ashamed of my shame.

Amá punishes me for one or two weeks, depending on how severe my behavior is, and then, a few months later, it happens again. Like I said, I don’t know how to control my mouth. Amá tells me, “Como te gusta la mala vida,” and I guess she’s right, because I always end up making things more difficult for myself. I used to be a model student, skipped third grade and everything, but now I’m a troublemaker.

Olga had taken the bus that day because her car was in the shop to get the brakes replaced. Amá was supposed to pick her up, but because she had to deal with me at school, she couldn’t. If I’d shut my mouth, things would have worked out differently, but how was I supposed to know? When Olga got off the bus to transfer to another one across the street, she didn’t see that the light had already turned green because she was looking at her phone. The bus honked to warn her, but it was too late. Olga stepped into the busy street at the wrong time. She got hit by a semi. Not just hit, though--smashed.

Whenever I think of my sister’s crushed organs, I want to scream in a field of flowers until I’m hoarse.

Two of the witnesses said that she was smiling right before it happened. It’s a miracle that her face was okay enough to have an open casket. She was dead by the time the ambulance arrived.

Even though the man driving couldn’t have seen her because she was blocked by the bus and the light was green and Olga shouldn’t have crossed one of the busiest streets in Chicago with her face in her phone, Amá cursed the driver up and down until she lost her voice. She got really creative, too. She had always scolded me for saying the word damn, which is not even a bad word, and here she was, telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves. I just watched her with my mouth hanging open.

We all knew it wasn’t the driver’s fault, but Amá needed someone to accuse. She hasn’t blamed me directly, but I can see it in her big sad eyes every time she looks at me.

My nosy aunts are whispering behind me now. I can feel their eyes latched to the back of my head again. I know they’re saying that this is my fault. They’ve never liked me because they think I’m trouble. When I dyed chunks of my hair bright blue, those drama queens almost needed to be put on stretchers and rushed to the hospital. They act as if I’m some sort of devil child because I don’t like to go to church and would rather read books with them. Why is that a crime, though? They’re boring. Plus, they have no idea how much I loved my sister.

I’ve had enough of their whispering, so I turn around to give them a dirty look. That’s when I see Lorena come in, thank God. She’s the only person who can make me feel better right now.

Everyone turns to stare at her in her outrageously high heels, tight black dress, and excessive makeup. Lorena is always drawing attention to herself. Maybe that’ll give them something else to gossip about. She hugs me so tight she nearly cracks my ribs. Her cheap cherry body spray fills my nose and mouth.

Amá doesn’t like Lorena because she thinks she’s wild and slutty, which isn’t untrue, but she has been my friend since I was eight and is more loyal than anyone I’ve ever known. I whisper to her that my tías are talking about me, that they’re blaming me for what happened to Olga, that they’re making me so angry, I want to smash all the windows with my bare fists.


Excerpted from "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Erika L. Sánchez.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Children's Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It tells a story that really isn't told enough. You've managed to articulate everything I was feeling growing up with my ama" y apa". Hot cheetos and lime! Yas!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book “I am not your Perfect mexican daughter” has been one of my favorite books I have read. I say this because this book actually puts you in the shoes of what a typical mexican daughter has to go through. Therefore, they even mention some of the traditions that the mexican daughter had to experience. Words cannot explain on how much I enjoyed reading this book. I wouldn’t want to stop reading it. Although, any book can make changes to create even more of a better one to read. There were not many major events that I thought that the author missed but, I would like to know more about how Olga died. They did not really go into detail on how Olga died and she was always being mentioned in the book. Therefore, if the author included a better description on how Olga passed away readers would have a better understanding on the book. This book shocked me so much because I never realized on how I am not the only typical mexican daughter that has to face all these challenges and etc. The book made me feel like I have someone that understands on what I go through. I say this because in the text it says, “I do not understand how I always have to earn my money but all the other girls in my school just get money.” page-73 This quote shows on how mexicans might see things in ways others do not. Another thing that I was very pleased from the book was the fact that they compared the world here then from mexico. They gave explanation on why people move her to the United States to have a better life. For example, Julia and her family moved her to the United States for a better life. Not a lot of people understand why mexicans wanna live here rather than over there. I visit mexico every year and there is something called sicarios and narcos. Sicarios are the ones that sell drugs for a living and narcos are the ones that take people that have money. Once they take the they treat them, sometimes they even kill there whole money if they do not give them money. Julia experienced guys from Mexico being dirty with her. I know this because in the text it says, “I definitely do not miss going down the streets in Mexico and having those old men whistle at me.” page-149 Summary (the summer is connected with the book review) Julia is a 15 year old daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her 22 year old sister (Olga) was hit by a buys and killed. Julia’s mother (Ama) is a housecleaner. Her father (Apa) is a worker at a candy factory. Julia is rarely allowed to leave the house after Olga’s death. When she does go out her mom is calling her every second to make sure she is okay. Ama started to realize that she has been very cold with Julia because she always thought that Olga was the perfect daughter. Attending college and working at the same time. Meanwhile, Julia spent most of her day at school at the principal's office. Ama decided to make Julia a Quinceanera to make up for her selfishness. The other reason she threw Julia one was because I never had the chance to through Olgas one. Therefore, she doesn't want to regret not making Julia one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it you should read too!
Anonymous 7 months ago
I could not put this book down. Needless to say, I finished it in a day and a half. As a Mexican daughter myself, I love how I was able to relate to Julia's struggles with her parents. I laughed and cried through out the book but mostly laughed. Julia is very intelligent and entertaining. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially teens.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Pretty good, funny in most parts and many Latinos could probably relate and not feel so "alone" in their plight especially if they're second generation. I did not expect that twist at the end but it is something that needs to be discussed especially within an immigrant community. Mental health is so fragile and is something that should be openly discussed within families this book is a good place to start the dialogue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kaileigh P. More than 1 year ago
Humans are hardwired to latch on to certain bits of their personalities like leeches and not let go. It’s a simple defence mechanism. No one can convey every aspect of their personality with a few words: we’re too complex for that. So when we find something we can label, we hang on for dear life. And even worse, we like to do the same for others, putting them into neat little boxes labeled “like me” or “not like me.” It’s our messed up way of deciding who’s a friend and who’s an enemy. If we just let go of our stubbornness and learned to compromise with ourselves and others, we could solve a lot of unnecessary conflicts. Erika L. Sánchez touches on this powerful theme in her novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. She argues that there’s common ground somewhere, so we need to fussing about differences and look for it. Sánchez uses Julia and Amá’s opposite personalities to represent what happens when people cling so hard to their extreme personalities that they can’t make compromises. In their hearts, they are not too different. They’re just two people broken by the death of a beloved family member and aren’t sure how to cope. Although Amá’s wishes for her Julia to be careful clash with her ambitions, ultimately, she would support Julia through anything. Both of them just needed to realize that before they could get along. And that’s exactly what Sánchez wants us to see: even very different people can get along. There are lots of opposing personalities in this world, but none of us are truly black and white, so there must be some common ground. We just need to give up our stubborn tendencies, consider all perspectives, and be willing to compromise a little. Another admirable aspect of Sánchez’s writing is that it’s refreshingly sassy. It doesn’t skip around the rules and boundaries of writing. It shoves them in your face in a way that’s funny and uncannily real. The truth is that we don’t talk in perfect prose. We’re full of harsh judgements and badly timed humor, and Sanchez conveys that well through Julia’s hilariously rude jokes. She captured the flaws and brashness of human thought from the first (“Where did they find this mortician, the flea market?” (Sánchez 2)) to the last in a way that’s funny yet meaningful. It’s certainly not Shakespeare, but Sánchez’s writing is striking in its own way. But the best thing about I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is that it doesn’t set a ridiculously high bar that will crush teens’ fragile confidence. Julia has flaws and problems, just like a real person, but she’s still strong and capable. There are so many YA novels in which the main character has no problems in the beginning, is faced with a minor bump in the road that somehow destroys their perfect world, then bounces back almost immediately. That is not this book. This book reminds teenagers that real life isn’t always glamorous, and you won’t always recover quickly, and that’s okay as long as you get back up eventually. So all in all, it’s a genuinely enjoyable book that’s written exceptionally well. Personally, I prefer Jane Austen or Alexandre Dumas to YA novels, but if you forcibly dragged me out of my 19th century cave, I’d reach for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter in a heartbeat. Well, maybe after Agatha Christie...
florencia More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book, it was a good read and was very interesting and shocking. It starts an important conversation about mental health in Hispanic communities and also show cases the struggles of poverty and sexual harassment. It depicts a, what I believe to be, realistic picture of depression. The main character does come off as hateful and high maintenance, which can be irritating to read. However, she is also fighting a mental illness and I think if you can put up with her you can really come to enjoy the book. For these reasons however, the book does become a little bit hard to read. Sometimes she says very aggravating things. Despite that, it really opens your eyes to the reality of all of those above named issues. I also really liked that this is not your average book. It doesn't have an average love story or story at all. The main character isn't "perfectly flawed" like in other books. You know when they are obviously not perfect but the reader still loves them. She genuinely gets kind of annoying. It's very interesting to read and unlike anything you read before. Not the best book I have ever read, but definitely think it is worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book in 1 sitting.... it's that good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From beginning to end the author painted a picture and sang a song I had both never heard before and knew my whole life.
taniabelle More than 1 year ago
I kept walking past this book on book buying trips and decided to pick it up. I’m so glad that I decided to purchase this book. This book is so amazingly relatable. It is so nicely written that it was easy to fall into the story and stay in the flow of the story. Chicago is my hometown and I loved being able to kind of guess what neighborhoods that book was covering throughout the story. I also admire how the subject of mental illness is handled. It was not cliche or something you could guess how it was going to unfold from page one. Subtle and artful. I can’t wait for the next book by Erika Sanchez. She is truly an artist. I highly recommend this book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book with very real mature topics involved. It makes you grip your chair and worry, makes you cry, smile. If you dont know spanish you will need a translator to get the full impact of this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a truly emotional experience. Would recommend this to all of my friends especially those who are in the same predicament as Julia Reyes! I love the way that Erika Sanchez writes!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To be able to connect to the writer is an amazing feeling
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I literally cried several times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so impressed on how much I could relate to book. Amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
U .p
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book very much, I was able to relate as a Latina to much of this book. It's nice to have a book young Latinas can read and relate to. The book was interesting and not at all a complicated read. Would definitely recommend to young adults and teens.