I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Empowering, stereotype-shattering coming-of-age story.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 13 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter shows Julia's everyday family life in both Chicago and Mexico. Dialogue switches from English to Spanish so naturally that readers should have no trouble discerning the meaning. Julia's quinceañera, the party that celebrates a 15-year-old girl's transition to adulthood, is described in detail. A how-to on making menudo, a traditional Mexican stew made with beef stomach.

Positive Messages

Your future is not determined by who your parents are, the neighborhood you come from, or the odds that are seemingly stacked against you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Julia can be judgmental, rebellious, and insensitive, she's also determined and hardworking. She does what it takes to bring her grades up when they begin to slip a bit and takes action with her personal life as well, getting help and treatment for anxiety and depression.


A gun battle between drug dealers during Julia's trip to Mexico and the slaughter of a pig are described in some detail. Mentions of incidents in which a woman is raped. People die in the desert while illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the United States. A teen is beaten for being gay. A character attempts suicide.


Julia loses her virginity in a scene that's described but not in sexually explicit detail. There's a brief discussion about penises.


Profanity ("f--k," "crap," "a--hole," "p---y," "s--t," motherf----r," "Jesus") used casually and fairly often in conversation.


Passing references to fast-food restaurants and some music groups (including a few whose songs deal with drug lords and shoot-outs), mentions of books Julia's reading: The AwakeningThe Great Gatsbyand the poems of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke marijuana and get drunk at parties. Adults drink. Drug lords and their feuds are a problem in the area of Mexico where Julia's relatives live.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Erika L. Sanchez's I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is the story of Julia Reyes, a smart, brash, and rebellious teen who lives in a gritty Chicago neighborhood with her parents and her stay-at-home sister, Olga, who never gives her parents any trouble. But after Olga is killed in an accident, Julia discovers that her sister may not have been as saintly as everyone believed. As Julia tries to uncovers her sister's secrets, she also discovers the secrets that have made her parents so fearful of Julia building a different life for herself. There's profanity (including "f--k," and "s--t"), and a girl has sex, but it's not described in explicit detail. Violence includes a gun battle between drug dealers in Mexico and the slaughter of a pig described in some detail and mention that a woman was raped. People die in the desert while illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a teen is beaten for being gay, and a character attempts suicide. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a 2017 National Book Award nominee.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKaren L. July 2, 2019

Every teen issue

Agreeing with other reviewer that this book hits every adolescent social topic and in many cases seemed to normalize what I consider harmful behavior--drinking/... Continue reading
Adult Written byKaris M. March 20, 2020

Not for kids

The main character struggles very realistically with when knowing (and telling) the truth is the best thing or not. Unfortunately the story is full of strong l... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEliza Hamilton August 19, 2020

Book Review

I read this book when I was 13. Since it was a National Book Award Winner I thought it would be a good book to read. I agree with the fact that the way Erika L.... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bybanana_mango October 18, 2020

Good but not really. (don't come at me) MATURE

This book, for me, is just...fine. I loved the aspect of it, and it's very realistic. But, it was too much for me. I read this at 12 years old, and I was s... Continue reading

What's the story?

In I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, Julia Reyes lives with her parents and older sister, Olga, in a Chicago neighborhood filled with graffiti, gangs, and cockroaches. Her parents, who are both undocumented, work long, hard hours to provide as best they can for the family. For Julia's mother, Olga is the perfect Mexican daughter. She still lives at home, dresses modestly, has a respectable job, and doesn't date. In stark contrast, Julia is rebellious and often lashes out at her overprotective parents, who she feels are not supportive of her dreams of going to college in New York City. She's almost estranged from her mother, who wants to constantly know where Julia's going and what she'll be doing. After Olga is hit and killed by a truck, Julia discovers sexy underwear and the key to a Chicago hotel room among her sister's belongings. Olga, it seems, had a secret life. As Julia begins to uncover Olga's secrets, her own life takes some equally dramatic turns. She meets her first boyfriend, who's wealthy and white, her parents send her to stay with family in Mexico, hoping her behavior will change, and she battles anxiety and depression. 

Is it any good?

Determined and sometimes enraging Latina teen comes of age in a story filled with shocking discoveries, family conflicts, long-buried secrets, rebellion, and reconciliation. Readers may have varied reactions to the character of Julia. For many, she'll be a role model for overcoming the odds and going after your dreams. For others, her often judgmental and dismissive attitude (even toward things like the quinceañera that means so much to her mother) may well be a turnoff.

While the main storyline is extremely strong and compelling, the novel has enough subplots (Julia's wealthy white boyfriend, being forced to leave school for a time and live with family in Mexico, a gay friend, mental health issues) that some readers may have a hard time keeping track of where the story is going.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how overprotective Julia's parents are in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. What's a good middle ground between giving teens unlimited freedom and monitoring their every move? Are there times your parents seem overprotective?

  • What cultural traditions do you celebrate in your family? Why do you think Julia was so resistant to celebrating her quinceañera?

  • Do you know anyone who's dealing with anxiety or depression? Do they keep this a secret, or are they open about it to their friends? How would students at your school react if they discovered someone had attempted suicide?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latino and coming-of-age stories

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