The Education of Margot Sanchez

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Education of Margot Sanchez Book Poster Image
Social climbing and cultural identity collide in a fun read.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Many characters use Spanish phrases. Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos is mentioned and quoted. New York geography and cultural differences between boroughs factors into the story, especially in regard to parts of the Bronx, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Positive Messages

Most of the positive messages in the book come from difficult learning experiences on Margot's part. Through trying to be someone she's not, she learns it's always best to be yourself; truth is essential in all relationships; to have good friends, you need to be a good friend; and don't make assumptions about people based on their appearances or on gossip. Other characters show it is possible to leave a bad past behind.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Moises turned his life around and is working hard as a community activist. He cares deeply about people. Elizabeth is a true friend to Margot, even though Margot doesn't treat her well through much of the book. Margot becomes a positive role model over the course of the book. She matures and realizes that she has made and continues to make bad decisions. Oscar is a minor character, but he has good values and integrity, which help Margot see the error of her ways.

Violence

Most of the violence is threatened, including characters talking about beating people up, men cat-calling young women, and tough-person type of posturing. Junior threatens a person legally handing out information on the street and picks a fight, kicking over a table. He also violently grabs and hurts Margot a few times, once dragging her down a hallway while yelling at her.

Sex

Margo kisses a boy on a dare. Lots of frank sexual banter, talk, and insults, including how long a guy a "lasts" during sex, talking about condoms, physical objectifying, how men use women for sex. Much of these discussions stem from the macho street culture of the Puerto Rican Bronx neighborhood where most of the book takes place. Some flirting, making out, and grinding while dancing. Two teen characters have sex, but it isn't described graphically. A man and a woman are caught making out in a car.

Language

Some swearing, but's it's realistic, especially given many of the arguments and tense situations in the book: "s--t" and its variations, "f--k" and its variations, "tits," "whore," "ass," "d--k," "damn," "bitch," "a--hole," "motherf--ker," "hell," "Jesus," "God," and "bulls--t."

Consumerism

Margot is very status conscious, but that trait is not portrayed as a good thing. While few brand names are mentioned, she and her prep school friends care a lot about money, clothing, and jewelry, with Taylor Swift being a style icon. In her mind rich equals good. Brands mentioned include Starbucks, Target, and BJ's Wholesale Club.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Margot sometimes smells alcohol and pot on her brother. Characters talk with patients from the local methadone clinic. One character is a former drug dealer. Teens drink to excess at a party, and other teens smoke pot at a concert. One character discovers a drug cache.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know The Education of Margot Sanchez is about a teen girl trying to figure out how to straddle two worlds: her exclusive prep school with it's rich status-oriented kids and the Bronx neighborhood where her family owns two supermarkets. Margot lies and steals to try to fit in with her school friends. She also tries to distance herself from her Bronx roots and cultural heritage. This leads to conflicts with friends and families. Over the summer, when she has to work at her family's store, she grapples with romance, family, honesty, and identity. Most of the book takes place in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx. Characters talk tough, get into fights, and swear. Margot struggles against the male-dominated patriarchal culture of the neighborhood. There's some drinking and implied drug use. Characters swear, including "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch." Important teen themes of status and trying to fit in figure largely in the book.

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What's the story?

In THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ, Margot is stuck working at one of her parents' Bronx supermarkets for the summer. She used her father's credit card without permission in an attempt to impress her wealthy prep school friends. Now she has to work off the money she spent, plus expenses for the coming school year, while her school friends are partying in the Hamptons. Yearning to be a part of that high-flying, rich-kid world and leave the streets of her Puerto Rican Bronx neighborhood behind, she dresses like Taylor Swift, straightens her hair, and takes all the edge out of her personality. Over the course of the summer, Margot is forced to confront her poor decisions, old friendships, romances, gentrification of her neighborhood, and some serious family issues. She finds herself in a bad place: a wannabe at the prep school, and a snob who has turned her back on her people in the Bronx. She also discovers that she's not the only one making bad decisions in life.

Is it any good?

In this alternately light and insightful story, a Puerto Rican teen tries to leave her Bronx roots behind for a slick prep-school life. The Education of Margot Sanchez tells the story of Margot, who is stuck between the identity she's trying to create for herself at school and the "princesa" she's known as in her parents' two Bronx supermarkets. Margot is hard to like through much of the book, with her judgmental, selfish, status-obsessed ways, but it is to author Lilliam Rivera's credit that we care about Margot's growth and what happens to her. Rivera does a good job of showing us how Margot struggles with her poor decisions and eventually learns from them. Rivera also doesn't shy away from showing the downside of the masculine, patriarchal culture in Margot's neighborhood. These elements keep the book from being a stereotypical story of a social-climbing teen in New York.

Margot's family issues also add depth to the book. We see her parents struggle with finances and their relationship, while her brother's making his own poor choices in trying to be the successful, smart son his parents expect him to be. Margot matures as she begins to understand more of the world around her, which makes for an enjoyable read. Rivera also gives the secondary characters a lot of personality and depth, a rarity in teen novels. The action and tension in the story makes this a page turner.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the notion of status in The Education of Margot Sanchez. Do the way celebrities and rich people dress affect your choices? Why or why not? If a person dresses in designer clothes or drives a particular type of car, does it really say anything about the person?

  • Many parents feel their kids are too young to understand money or other important issues that might affect the family. Do you feel parents should be more open about their problems with their kids as the kids get older?

  • Have you ever compromised who you are or changed the way you act to make friends?

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