Lauded poet and debut YA author Erika L. Sánchez talks to us about the importance of allowing the story to lead the writer, and shares how her upbringing inspired the emotions in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter debuts on bookstore shelves today, Tuesday, October 17, 2017. Here’s what Erika L.Sánchez had to say about her new book:
Give us your elevator pitch for ‘I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’!
The novel s a coming of age story about Julia Reyes, a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago. The book begins with the death of her sister, Olga, who appeared to be the perfect daughter until Julia sets out to discover who she truly was. In the process, Julia begins to understand her family and herself.
How are you most like your main character? How are you most different?
Julia and I have similar upbringings, but she definitely has experienced more trauma. While the story is very much fictionalized (I never had a sister, for instance), I was also a pretty outspoken and troubled kid. Like Julia, I struggled with depression and had a hard time living up to what was expected of me. I always half joke that my main character is funnier, smarter, and possibly meaner than I ever was.
‘I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’ is your debut YA novel, but you’ve been a respected poet for years. How did your background in poetry influence this book, and how does crafting a YA novel differ from writing a poetry collection like ‘Lessons on Expulsion’?
I’ve been reading both poetry and prose since I was a kid, but I began writing poetry first. I was 12, and in a sense, it was my first love. I really enjoyed the musicality and the concision of language. I started writing what would become Lessons on Expulsion when I was 21 and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter when I was 28. (I’m 33 now.) Poetry requires a lot more time and silence for me. I can’t rush a poem. It comes when it wants. With fiction however, I can be more intentional. At the same time, the skills I have in poetry have made my prose stronger. I pay a lot of attention to image, rhythm, and punctuation. I can obsess over a single sentence for a long time.
Congratulations on being named a Princeton Arts Fellow! As a teacher at the university level, what is one piece of writing advice you’d like to share with students?
Teaching at Princeton is a dream come true. I absolutely love it here. I often tell my students to follow where the poem is trying to lead them. It’s important to let go of the initial idea for a piece if it’s not working. If you don’t surprise yourself, there’s no way you’re going to surprise the reader.
What are some of your favorite YA reads and/or authors that you’d like to tell us about?
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Sparrow by Sarah Moon, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.
About ‘I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez debuts on bookstore shelves today, Tuesday, October 17, 2017! You can order the book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent bookstore.