I noticed it at the library because of the cover and title. I’m expanding my reading genres and thought I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez was a perfect choice.
I was fifty pages into the book, and sure I’d made a wrong selection. The main character is…acerbic, to say the least. She carries herself in a bad mood all day, and leaves most people feeling the same way. Her family life was all wrong. Mom gives her too much attention, and dad giver her none. She can hardly shut the door to her bedroom without forcing an outcry from mom. She cannot wait for the day she leaves and goes to college. Her sister – the perfect one – recently died, and no one can measure up. There’s no measuring up to perfect.
I figured out partway through that this is just what Sanchez wanted me to feel. She wanted a confused, loud story. She wanted me to wonder what in the hell is wrong with these people. What I didn’t know then, was that I was feeling the same things that the characters were feeling. Can someone please stop yelling? Really? Another tortilla? Good god, dad. Can’t you say something?
Had she left the story there, I would have closed the book. But the story comes around. We learn what mom and dad went through to become who they are. We learn something about their culture and how they grew up. We learn that, in many families, caring deeply and loudly is another word for loving deeply.
I struggled to enjoy the story early on, but felt a nudge to turn the page, to see what happens next. By page 100, I was completely drawn in and engaged with the main character. Later in the book, the author explains the mother’s actions. In a few pages, the story filled in, and I saw it was the story of every fifteen-year-old girl with an overbearing mother and a silent father. Maybe it was the story of my mother, an immigrant decades ago with the same two parents.
Two parts I especially enjoyed:
I recently had a brain injury and am pretty fascinated with mental health issues. There’s a deep and thoughtful component of that here.
And, at a point, because of the main character’s mental health, mom sends her home to Mexico where she and her husband grew up. It’s mom’s answer to everything wrong in America: a few weeks in Mexico will do you good. It worked for good, though, and the young girl learns the same lesson her mom was forced to learn at about the same age: life is often more messy and complicated than the easy answers lead you to believe.
What I learned by expanding my genre reading this book is that the kind of book I really enjoy is plain good writing that makes me want to engage with the story and character. Mexican fits that perfectly.
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