We are bringing back book club!
For the next month, we'll be reading "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" by Erika L. Sánchez. Even though Sánchez is originally from Chicago and now lives in Princeton, New Jersey, she'll be in town for the book festival, meaning you can catch her at one of several panels she'll speak at throughout the weekend.
Published in October, "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" introduces readers to teenager Julia after her older sister Olga dies. Written in first person, the book follows Julia's life as she struggles with the grief of Olga's death, the suffocating expectations of her parents and her dreams of getting out of her neighborhood and into college. Amid all of that, she finds love (maybe) and learns that her sister wasn't the perfect daughter everyone believed her to be.
The book takes a hard look at the two worlds many children of immigrants straddle. In Julia's case, her parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and cherish traditions and memories from that culture that don't always line up with the future (or present) Julia sees for herself.
This book has all the angst of those teenage years and then some. Through Sánchez's writing, you'll feel what Julia feels as she trudges through the two years between her sister's death and her high school graduation.
With five weeks until the Tucson Festival of Books, we'll use this week to give everyone time to find and start reading the book and then get started with questions on Thursday, Feb. 15. Read through Chapter 7 by then. (Don't worry, it reads quickly). We'll post a schedule for the coming weeks in the Facebook group.
We talked with Sánchez, 33, and then read the book over the weekend, so here are five things you need to know.
1. Julia's name is pronounced the Spanish way.
With an "H" instead of a "J." The character herself expresses annoyance when her name is mispronounced "Jewlia." You'll also be thankful if you know some Spanish while reading the novel — Sánchez weaves the language throughout, in dialogue or through expressions and subtly gives you enough context to know what is being said, even if your Spanish is a bit rusty.
2. This is the book Sánchez wished she had growing up.
"I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid and primarily a poet, but five years ago I started writing this book, and I wrote the book because I thought I should write the book I needed when I was a kid because I didn’t have anything like that," she said. "I think it’s important for young girls of color to see themselves in literature.
"Julia is a complex girl of color. She's not always nice. She is sometimes very difficult, and I feel like we don't get enough of that ... The character is very flawed but also has a lot of heart. That is something I would have wanted to see — a girl mess up but still be, in a sense, the heroine of the story."
Like Julia, Sánchez grew up as a child of undocumented immigrants — her parents eventually became citizens — and understands the responsibility kids in those situations often feel for their parents and families.
"It's a very distinct experience that a lot of people don't understand," she said.
3. The book tackles some heavy topics.
In addition to family clashes, deportation fears and the death of a sibling, "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" tackles issues including depression and anxiety, suicide, sexual assault, sexuality, body image and abuse. We thought you should know.
It's a lot, and sometimes, you feel it. But Julia is also a sarcastic narrator with a sense of humor. That helps.
"It's going to be heavy, but it's also going to be funny — at least that's what people seem to think so far," Sánchez said. "It's a very complex story with a lot of heavy subject matter, but I think that young people are equipped to deal with this because they're dealing with a lot of the same issues. The protagonist isn't always likable, but I think that is important, because as human beings we're not always likable."
4. It was a finalist for the National Book Award last year.
Kind of like the Oscar's for authors, the National Book Award is a big deal. "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" is Sánchez's debut novel — she is also a poet with a debut poetry collection called "Lessons on Expulsion" that was published in July 2017.
"I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" is a New York Times Bestseller and was one of five finalists for the National Book Award in young people's literature. Just FYI, this book is officially categorized as YA or young adult.
5. Sánchez is speaking at four panels at the Tucson Festival of Books.
Here is her schedule for the weekend so far. Check tucsonfestivalofbooks.org for updates.
• "Parents Can Be a Pain: Clashing Generations and Expectations" Saturday, March 10, 1 p.m. in Education Room 351.
• "Why We Need Complex and Diverse Characters" Saturday, March 10, 4 p.m. in Education Room 353.
• "National Book Award Authors" Sunday, March 11, 10 a.m. in Modern Languages Room 350.
• "Ni santas, ni diablas, sólo mujeres" Sunday, March 10, 2:30 p.m. at the Pima County Public Library / Nuestras Raíces Presentation Stage.