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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

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Best Seller
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “stunning” (America Ferrera) YA novel about a teenager coming to terms with losing her sister and finding herself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican American home.

“Alive and crackling—a gritty tale wrapped in a page-turner. ”—The New York Times

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?
© Adriana Diaz
Erika L. Sánchez is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, was a number one New York Times bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist. It is now being made into a film directed by America Ferrera. Sanchez was a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, a 2018 recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and a 2019 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. View titles by Erika L. Sánchez

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.
 

Educator Guide for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Discussion Guide for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

  • WINNER | 2017
    Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
  • SELECTION | 2019
    Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
  • SELECTION | 2018
    Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year
  • SELECTION | 2018
    Virginia Capitol Choices Award List
  • FINALIST | 2017
    National Book Award for Young People's Literature
“I fell in love with Erika L. Sánchez’ stunning novel....The depth, wit and searing intelligence of her writing, and her young Latina heroine, struck me to my core and left me wanting so much more." --America Ferrera, Emmy award-winning actress in Ugly Betty

“This book will change everything. . . . A perfect book about imperfection.” —Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States

“Unique and fresh.” Entertainment Weekly

“A standout.” —NPR

“A wonderfully complex and interesting character.” Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“Blistering. Julia’s persona rockets off the page and into your face from the get-go.” Christian Science Monitor

“If you ever wanted to [understand] the harsh truths of immigrant life, this is the book you need to read.” Bustle
 
“As poignant as it is incisive.” —AV Club
 
“An earnest and heartfelt tale.” Booklist
 
“A timely and must-have account of survival in a culturally contested world.” SLJ, Starred
 
“Beautifully written.” Shelf Awareness, starred review

"Ultimately, it’s Julia herself who’s the key to the novel... She’ll resonate with many readers, and they’ll be glad to see her make it through a tough time." The Bulletin, starred review

About

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “stunning” (America Ferrera) YA novel about a teenager coming to terms with losing her sister and finding herself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican American home.

“Alive and crackling—a gritty tale wrapped in a page-turner. ”—The New York Times

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?

Author

© Adriana Diaz
Erika L. Sánchez is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, was a number one New York Times bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist. It is now being made into a film directed by America Ferrera. Sanchez was a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, a 2018 recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and a 2019 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. View titles by Erika L. Sánchez

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.
 

Guides

Educator Guide for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Discussion Guide for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Awards

  • WINNER | 2017
    Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
  • SELECTION | 2019
    Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
  • SELECTION | 2018
    Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year
  • SELECTION | 2018
    Virginia Capitol Choices Award List
  • FINALIST | 2017
    National Book Award for Young People's Literature

Praise

“I fell in love with Erika L. Sánchez’ stunning novel....The depth, wit and searing intelligence of her writing, and her young Latina heroine, struck me to my core and left me wanting so much more." --America Ferrera, Emmy award-winning actress in Ugly Betty

“This book will change everything. . . . A perfect book about imperfection.” —Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States

“Unique and fresh.” Entertainment Weekly

“A standout.” —NPR

“A wonderfully complex and interesting character.” Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“Blistering. Julia’s persona rockets off the page and into your face from the get-go.” Christian Science Monitor

“If you ever wanted to [understand] the harsh truths of immigrant life, this is the book you need to read.” Bustle
 
“As poignant as it is incisive.” —AV Club
 
“An earnest and heartfelt tale.” Booklist
 
“A timely and must-have account of survival in a culturally contested world.” SLJ, Starred
 
“Beautifully written.” Shelf Awareness, starred review

"Ultimately, it’s Julia herself who’s the key to the novel... She’ll resonate with many readers, and they’ll be glad to see her make it through a tough time." The Bulletin, starred review

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