Talking Charater Flaws, Social Issues, & I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with Dani from Perspective of a Writer (Buddy Read Follow-Up!)

Posted November 20, 2019 by Amber in Bookish Things / 3 Comments

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Good morning loves!

A couple weeks ago, I promised you that you’d be hearing more about I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. This was a buddy read with Dani @ Perspectives of a Writer and she has thoroughly challenged me with some deep questions about the content of this book! I am going to do my utmost to give thorough and thoughtful answers to each of Dani’s excellent questions to discuss the content of this book a little further in depth.

And of course, please make sure to check of Dani’s companion post, which drops today as well! We’re both talking about the social issues within this novel, as well as mental health and relationships. <3

Please be aware that if you haven’t read the book, there may be some spoilers trickled into my answers.  Please read on with caution!

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The concept of a “perfect Mexican daughter” is contrasted with the American culture that Julia lived in. What did you think about the characteristics Julia believed embodied that perfect ideal? Did you enjoy following Julia’s struggle with her Mexican culture?

Every time Julia spoke about her community’s perspective of a “perfect Mexican daughter”, one image repeatedly appeared: a girl who stayed home with her parents. Honestly, the way we approach family in American culture is very different than many (most?) cultures around the world, so seeing this appear didn’t surprise me. Her (in)ability to cook also popped up a few times, as well as conversation on sex and modesty.

I think the word “enjoy” would be a bit strong for a lot of aspects of Julia’s struggle, but I did find the content of this book interesting. Much contemporary YA is about love or wanting to fit in – I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter did it on a much larger scale. Being perfectly honest – American culture is very selfish, focused on lifting ourselves up rather than the good of a family or community. That isn’t to say it’s true of all individuals, but in stereotype… that’s what Julia was trying to embody, that American arrogance and freedom that comes along with being a privileged nation. The image is fed to her by her school mates, TV show and films, even storefront window displays and college brochures. And that American ideal comes into contrast with her family’s morals and beliefs.

So, enjoy? No. But it was really interesting to watch the black and white become shades of grey and I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the struggles of first generation immigrants.

Julia makes for a strong POV character. You mentioned when we were 3 chapters in that you found her “refreshingly real.” Do you stand by this statement? Why or why not?

Hah, so, I think part of my relief in Julia’s character was that I was coming off characters like Tom Sawyer (Tom Sawyer Abroad) and Eragon (Eragon), both of whom are arrogant and just EVERYTHING goes well for them… so many lucky breaks. Plus so many contemporaries I stumble into are dominated by wispy protagonists with superficial problems and just. Ugh. I needed a break. I don’t always want a heavy book with an angry protagonist, but sometimes it’s nice to see someone who appears to have some depth?

I think what I liked most about Julia was her anger. As a teenager, I was so angry. All the time. And not for reasons half as good as Julia’s. Her lack of perfect control was something I feel like happens a lot in the real world, but less in books. The way she kept bringing up her sister even when she thought maybe she shouldn’t (but at the same time, emotionally, she had to), or the way she let her jealousy toward Juanga become hatred until perspective slapped her in the face. It felt utterly imperfect and human. And it’s good to see that in books sometimes. There are too many picture-perfect heroes out there, but humans are inherently flawed. Presenting only protagonists with ideal responses and thoughts further alienates those who are less-than-perfect and teaches people that emotions are inappropriate, shameful. This is a whole rant, and I will desist.

Yes, I still liked Julia’s character! 🙂 Specifically because of her many flaws.

Parental expectations is a major theme running through I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Did Julia’s relationship with her parents turn out how you expected? Was Julia’s mother toxic in the restrictions she would put on her daughters? What surprised you about the themes in this book?

I struggled with my opinion of Ama.  Julia’s mother is interesting, because of course, we see her through Julia’s eyes.  And Julia finds her mother to be entirely unreasonable and old-fashioned; she detests her mother’s lack of desire to embrace American culture the way she herself has.  But Julia’s an unreliable narrator in the case of Ama because of her deep feelings toward her mother.

Julia’s relationship was actually what I expected – she’s closer to one parent than the other, even though it’s not a positive relationship, and there’s an excess of distrust and dishonesty between the two.  Growing up, I had a similar relationship with my father, and in my case, that just didn’t change until I got a bit older and learned to see my parents as complex individuals instead of roadblocks in my personal path to happiness.  I think the same goes for Julia, and I spent some time while reading this trying to push myself outside Julia’s POV to see her parent’s differently.  I think Mexico helped give her some perspective.

There were so many themes to touch on in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – mental health, first-generation immigrants, grief, growing up, underprivileged communities, racism, sexuality… I think what surprised me about the themes was the sheer quantity.  It was a little overwhelming at times.  Not bad, just a lot.

The story was written to follow Julia’s day to day life. Along the way there are tons of social issues that are touched on. Which was the most natural to you? Did you enjoy the slice of life nature to Julia’s narrative? Do we need more books crammed with social issues to showcase how they permeate society?

Many of the issues felt very natural – there were certainly moments that stood out to me as less natural, possibly just because of the way the book was written (obviously, things like this happen in real life all the time and it sucks and is horrible).  There was an incident regarding Julia’s friend’s step-father that felt a little awkward and was never really followed through on that … didn’t seem to fit to me, I guess?  But because the book was so crammed, it could be that I just missed it, or it was just there to underline the fact that there are creeps out there.

The slice of life perspective and the wealth of social issues in I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter were good, though.  It was a bit shocking at times just for the sheer quantity, but honestly… the question  nails it on the head – these issues do permeate society and should be represented.  Not all books will have room for such an in-depth social commentary (which is, I believe, why most only focus on one or two) but in reality there are so so so many things that can happen simultaneously.

Of course, with the overflow, there wasn’t a really good in-depth focus on many things… so I don’t think every book should be so laden with social issues – sometimes you need to magnify just one – but it’s good that there are books with wide representation.  And it’s unfortunate that there needs to be.

Because we start with the death of Julia’s sister, it can be said that grief plays another large role in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Did you see the stages of grief in Julia’s journey? Could you relate to how she dealt with her pain?

Absolutely!  The stages of mourning were one of the first patterns I noticed in Julia’s journey, and I couldn’t get them out of my head as I continued to listen.  While the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief isn’t definitive, it’s early common to see most if not all of the five stages in people in one order or another.

Unfortunately, I relate a little too much to Julia in her grieving.  Julia started with anger, and that’s where I start on the model as well.  At the beginning of the book we see everyone else crying or in denial, but not Julia.  For so many reasons, Julia is mad – and I think that may be part of the reason I didn’t immediately dislike Julia.  Her need for self-preservation and normalcy and understanding overrides the grief of the absence, and her loss only comes out in spurts of sadness when she literally cannot hold it in any more.  It was sort of … refreshing, I guess… to see this kind of reaction to death because it’s not abnormal to be feeling something other than sadness at a loss – there are so many complicated emotions!

That’s a continuing theme, by the way, of what I appreciated in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.  There are many ways Julia defies what would be considered “normal” with reactions and emotions that are equally valid, but sort of taboo to talk about, it seems. 🙂

Olga, Julia’s sister, is someone we only meet through how Julia views her. What did you think about Olga in the beginning? Did the things Julia learn about her sister change what you thought? Is this true to life?

At the beginning of the novel, I had no idea what to think about Olga.  She was this mystery on the outside edges of the story.  I wanted to learn more about her, but I guess I never really believed she was going to be picture perfect.  Who is?

I did think that Olga’s secret was going to have a different… … figure, I guess?  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I predicted a different interest than the ultimate ending.  I don’t feel it changed my view, though.  It was more, “Huh, I was wrong about that, cool.”

You mentioned the setting. We start out in Chicago, a melting pot of American cultures. And we travel to Mexico where Julia’s parents are from. Which setting did you enjoy the most? What did you think about the contrast between the them?

I loved Mexico, but 50% of that is entirely me as a person – the pace of cities makes me really uncomfortable as I hail from a more rural setting and the busyness just feels… overwhelming to me.  While I haven’t been to Chicago, I imagine it similar to cities I have visited – NYC, Boston, Paris, London… all with a lot of people and noise and just the word “city” has me going “nope!”.  So that has nothing to do with the book AT ALL but it definitely affected my opinion of the setting.

I felt like there was a lot of tension in both locations – whether it was personal and familial pressure, or just the tension of Julia not understanding the way of things in Mexico, and how even when things seemed “good” they were actually very much not.  The more I think about the setting, honestly, the tenser I get.  I feel very fortunate to live in my rural(er), quiet community.

Friendship, teacher mentors and family plays are all highlighted in Julia’s story in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. What characters impressed you the most? Did the slight bit of romance register for you? What do you think the message about love was supposed to be?

Oh no, themes and romance!  They are very much not my thing! *nervous laughter*

I wasn’t crazy about either romance, but it’s pretty rare that I am in a book.  There was definitely the contrast between the two worlds – heritage vs. materialism – which you pointed out in our discussions on Twitter!  I definitely didn’t pick up on it at all, because I was busy going “ugh romanceeee”.

Love comes in a lot of shades throughout the novel.  I actually think my favorite relationship was that between Julia and her father.  It was simple and quiet compared to a lot of Julia’s other interactions, but I really liked how revelations about her father did so much to open her eyes to what her parents sacrificed in raising her and Olga in the States.  The backstory behind her mother’s journey is horrifying, but I think it was her father’s that really hammered it home to Julia why he is the way he is… and I feel like she grew the most from understanding that?  And I know I am likely simplifying it, but each of the handful of their conversations were so meaningful.  From the way she watches him at the beginning, looking for rescue, to the way she speaks to him at the end… it was a quiet, background journey, but really good.

Mental health was something Julia struggled with and she learned to deal with it through therapy. Did you see the signs of her depression and anxiety early in the book? What do you think about how she dealt with her mental illness?

I really enjoy reading about mental health rep, especially times in therapy or situations like Julia’s.  I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more time spent on this, but then again, that section could have been a book on to itself.

I feel like I really did see those signs of depression and anxiety early on.  Julia’s life is a constant struggle.  Even though she’s smart, even though she has it better that her peers in many cases, it’s still hard for her.  Julia’s honest about that, even if the people around her just weren’t listening.  The twist in the middle didn’t altogether surprise me, but it did make me sad.

Obviously, Julia’s choice in the aforementioned twist wasn’t the best choice, and it wasn’t a healthy choice.  It’s one of those times when all the warning bells are going off… but… sometimes, it can feel like it’s the only choice, and that is why depression is such a scary thing.  I think Julia responded well to therapy, and she grew.  Facing her mental illness and having support made a difference in her life in a community where that kind of support often isn’t available.  … But it makes such a difference.  I think it was really good.

What was it like to listen to the audiobook? Did the narrator make the character come alive more? Did you get a sense of her Mexican heritage from the narrator?

I’m already a fan of audiobooks, so usually they do pretty well for me – I rarely put a book back on the “lets do this in hardcopy instead” shelf.  In the case of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, the book was read by Kyla Garcia.  She did a good job reading Julia and bringing her to life, making her sound like an angsty teenager, but not so annoying that I didn’t want to listen.  Her pacing was really good too – I didn’t speed up the narration on this book because I wanted to make sure I was listening closely for discussion reasons, and it flowed nicely.

Kyla Garcia is also in the audiobook cast of Puddin’, We Set the Dark on FireNocturna, and Blanca & Roja, to name a few, so I’m sure I’ll run into her again (all of these are on my TBR).  I did get a sense of a Mexican or other Latin background from the narrator’s accent, but I”m unable to confirm is Kyla’s a first generation Mexican-American like Julia.  She did a good job reading, though!

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Hoe do you feel about books jam-packed with social commentary?  I like them, but because they’re heavy, I can’t read too many in a row.  If you have any good recommendations for others, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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3 responses to “Talking Charater Flaws, Social Issues, & I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with Dani from Perspective of a Writer (Buddy Read Follow-Up!)

  1. Hi Amber! I came over to your blog from Dani’s post on book. I like your thoughtful answers here, especially how you comment on what you were like as a teen in comparison to Julia. I think it can be a bit too easy to ‘forget’ what it’s like to be a teenager when we (adults) read YA. (Also I’m excited to find another blogger who isn’t crazy about romance, lol).

    Jenna @ Falling Letters recently posted: 5 Books I Need to Re-read and Re-evaluate [Discussion]
    • Amber

      Hi Jenna and welcome! Thank you for your thoughtful comment! 🙂 I was a little worried about the buddy read questions, but it’s funny how once you start talking about a book, everything floods back! I’ve been transcribing old diaries into digital formats lately and become pretty aware how angry I was as a teen. 🙁 Fortunately, my life is much easier than Julia’s because I’m privileged as a cis white woman, but I do understand her anger a bit. 🙂