Erika L. Sánchez – I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Erika L. Sánchez – I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

When her older sister Olga dies in a car accident, there is only 15-year-old Julia left to be the perfect Mexican daughter her parents want to have. Olga was a role model, she always obeyed, did not go out, helped her mother with her cleaning job and even at college did not have a boyfriend. Julia, instead, wants the full life that all girls in Chicago have, she dreams of becoming a writer, likes to go out with her friends and have fun. Quite naturally, she over and over provokes conflicts with her parents. After Olga is gone, the situation worsens increasingly until it becomes unbearable and she only sees one way out of it all.

Erika L. Sánchez is a journalist and writer of Mexican decent. Her novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” was nominated finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She brilliantly portrays the perspective of a teenager who struggles with all the problems of a typical teenager but additionally has to live up to the expectations of her parents who have grown up in another country, with another culture and other values which they have taken with them and which they now project on their daughters. Additionally, which only becomes clear throughout the novel, the loss of her sister has left a greater scar on Julia than was obvious at the beginning.

I totally adored how Erika L. Sánchez found the tone of a teenager who is emotional and only wants to be free, free in her very own understanding. Julia is a sympathetic and adorable girl and it is not difficult to follow her line of thoughts. She wants to be a good daughter, she hates the fights with parents, but she is also stubborn and demands to be treated like the others, the American girls, and not to live up to the old, overcome Mexican values.

Living between two cultures means much more than just growing up, fulfilling the expectations of the peer group and the parents is impossible but nevertheless expected from teenagers in a time of rebellion. They all have to find their individual way of coping with this, Olga found hers and Julia only bit by bit uncovers that her sister wasn’t necessarily the girl she thought she was.

A great read in many respects, full of life, emotional, funny but also reflective and dark at times, it captures the full range of teenage life and takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride.

Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

akwaeke emezi the death of vivek oji
Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

When they hear some noise outside, Kavita opens the door and finds her son Vivek dead on the porch. There was some commotion at the local market and Vivek had wanted to go there where he obviously was killed. But who would ever want to do something to her beloved son? Yes, he had always been different, a bit strange which also made it hard for his cousin and childhood best friend Osita who witnessed strange occurrences such as Vivek’s mind wandering away and making him believe being a different person. And that’s just what he was, secretly, without his parents’ knowledge. But Osita, too, has some secrets he keeps from his and Vivek’s family, some just because they do not fit in their village’s idea of a young man’s life, others because they would be impossible to endure for anybody.

Just like in her novel “Freshwater”, “The Death of Vivek Oji” centres around a young protagonist who differs, whose mind works in a very singular way, yet, Vivek’s is less extraordinary than Ada’s. Nevertheless, the main conflict is placed between the individual and society: a person who does not comply with general expectations and cannot really reveal his emotions and most certainly cannot live the way he would prefer since this simply does not work in the place he lives.

“We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see?”

The story is told in flashbacks to describe the long road that lead to Vivek’s death. Alternately, Vivek and Osita narrate from their point of view what they experienced and how they felt. Both are trapped somehow since there are things they cannot talk about to anybody except for each other, at the same time, it is difficult for Osita to support Vivek’s otherness. The struggles they go through are very well established and easy to relate to. From a western perspective, it is incredible what is done to Vivek, especially the exorcism performed on him, but there are still places where binary thinking is the rule.

There is some mystery to solve, yet, it is much more about young people who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can live in a place where fixed rules and high expectations do not go well together with who they are. Even though it is, in the end, a rather sad story in many ways, I’d consider it a great and noteworthy read.