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Read With Us: Discussion Time

Read With Us

When Bonny and Carole and I were selecting the next Read With Us book, we were interested in finding something about the Mexican immigrant experience written by a Latinx author.  

Several lists pointed us to our eventual pick . . . 

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

But you know what I didn't know when we chose this book?

That it is Young Adult (YA) fiction!  A category I generally . . . don't enjoy.  But.  Here we were.  A YA title . . . that we asked you all to Read With Us!

I decided to keep an open mind about our selection. After all, this book is good YA fiction . . . being a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and all.  So I decided to read it while channeling my 13-year-old self.  Here she is, by the way . . . just to keep things in perspective.  (7th grade.  Is it a good age for anybody???  Just wondering.)


Before we begin the discussion, though, let's have a little review.  What IS YA fiction anyway?  And how is it different from adult fiction?  

There are 3 main differences:

First, there is the age of the protagonist.  Most YA fiction features a protagonist in the 15-19 year-old age group, while protagonists in adult fiction are typically fully-formed adults (at least in their 20s, but often older).

Next, there is voice.  While most YA fiction is written by adults, the voice still feels authentic to its younger target audience.  The concerns, motivations, and inner thoughts of YA protagonists tend to reflect "teen issues" -- friendships, self-discovery, and separation from parents, for example.  The YA narrative voice will usually be more in-the-moment -- more a play-by-play than the retrospective approach we typically see in adult fiction.

Last, we've got themes.  This can really blur, because the same themes often occur in both YA and adult fiction.  It's just that in YA, those themes (sex, violence, etc.) are not described as explicitly as they might be in adult fiction.

Personally, I tend to find YA kind of dull and predictable.  But 13-year-old Kym?  She really ate it up!  While 13-year-old Kym would have been scandalized by many of the topics and issues in this book (because the 1972 world she lived in was so very different from the modern-day world Julia was navigating), I know that 13-year-old Kym would've loved reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter!


Let's get to discussing, shall we?  Here's my discussion question:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was written to follow Julia’s day to day life. Along the way, the book touches on a multitude of social issues. Which was the most natural to you? Did you enjoy the slice of life nature to Julia’s narrative? Do you think there were too many social issues crammed into this book?  Or did it showcase how these issues permeate society?

Please consider this bonus question as well:

Do you think this book was a good representation of the YA fiction genre?  And did you judge this book differently than you might if it were adult fiction? Would you have liked this book when YOU were part of the target YA audience?

Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.  

Be sure to check out the questions posed by Bonny and Carole today, too!  It's our first-ever-three-blog-book-discussion-extravaganza!

Like we did last time, we've got a little bonus for you to participating in the book discussion. We have another “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post later this month.


And one more thing . . . We'd like to try to organize a Zoom book discussion sometime next week.  It's tricky to find the best time, though.  Please let us know in the comments if you'd be interested in taking part in a Zoom discussion, any time preferences (morning, afternoon, evening, for example), and if there are any specific days you CAN'T do (Carole can't do Monday evenings, for example, and I can't do Tuesday evenings).


As always, thanks for reading with us!







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I personally thought there may have been a few too many issues written into the story, but even though it's slightly difficult for me to connect with 13-year-old Bonny, I think she would not have thought that. I was 13 in 1970, and there was a lot going on (the Beatles broke up, we invaded Cambodia, there were huge protests against the Vietnam War, Apollo 13, shootings at Kent State ...) so I was beginning to realize that the world was a large, diverse, and often confusing place. A children's librarian once told me that she thought YA writers had the toughest job of any writers - writing a story that the YA audience would find interesting while teaching them something about the world and not dumbing it down. So yes, I think this is a good example of the YA genre, and I think it taught much-older-me a thing or three, too.

Kim Sheehan

I have to say I kept forgetting this was a YA book--it took on a lot of issues that 13 year old me would not have wanted to spend time thinking about. I liked the slice of life narrative but I found it weird when summers were just 'skipped' over. I also struggled with trying to figure out where she lived in Chicago and how she zipped around so quickly--when I lived there to get from Evanston to anywhere downtown was a bit of a slog (and I think she lived West of downtown, but I'm not sure).

I'm on the west coast and generally Wednesdays are not good for me, but I hope to be able to join whenever the zoom is!


As I mentioned on Bonnie's and Carole's blogs, I didn't really care for/like the book. I had a difficult time/could not relate to Julia. I also grew up in a totally different environment and did not go through losing a who knows what I would say had circumstances been different. I think that YA fiction is not a good genre for me though.

As far as the Zoom meeting, that doesn't appeal to me. First of all, I am busy (far busier than I expected) work-wise M-F and have plenty of WebEx meetings and the like. Weekends I try to stay off the computer.


The 13 year old me would have viewed much of the subject matter covered in this book as very "adult". YA literature in the early 60's was not very common. We seemed to move from Nancy Drew to Catcher in the Rye in a blink of an eye. As a 6th teacher I did read more YA books and found them often to cover several heavy topics at a time. In this case,does seem to be a lot going on. I haven't finished the book, but wonder how Julia's conflict with her traditional parents will resolve her sister's secret life.


I thought the book was very well written and did not have too many plot lines or issues that were not well written. I also did not think that this book read like YA fiction at all! Yes, it was about a teenager and a coming of age story, but I don't think To Kill a Mockingbird is considered YA fiction, and neither is The Body by Stephen King. Lots of books are narrated by children and teenagers and are considered coming of age stories, not YA fiction. My inner life as a teenager was very complex, and I had a lot of family issues going on, so I identified with Julia attempting to navigate teenage angst and family demands at the same time. I think it is untrue that all teenagers have simplistic lives, it depends on the person and the situation. I thought the author did a fabulous job of bringing a teenager to greater maturity while dealing with cultural issues. I did not expect to like this book, but I liked it a lot.


I turned 13 in 1967 and I don't remember having YA books available. Some of my favorite books from that time were To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and books by Taylor Caldwell. In school we read a lot of classics (Dickens, Hawthorne, Twain) and I enjoyed almost everything.
I'm not sure how I would have reacted to this book as a 13 year old because the world I grew up in was so different from today.


My 13 year old self would have loved this book because it tackles so many contemporary issues. My complaint about the book is Julia's whining. I do read quite a bit of YA fiction and I thought this was a bit heavier than some I've read.


I think there was an abundance of issues (overwhelmingly so - I am not sure a YA of today would spend much time dwelling on them though) I think I followed the issues more closely and wondered at some that, for me, seemed to be unresolved.

The most natural issue to me was the relationship between Julia and her mom - that rang very true to me. What did not seem natural was the relationships her friends had with their moms. But, maybe that was Julia's perspective - you know, how I felt my friends parents were so much better than my own. lol

My bad zoom times are Monday afternoon and Tuesday night. Oh, and Sunday's are not good for me either. :)


I don't think I thought of it as being YA while I read it even though I knew it was a YA book. The subjects they covered seemed more "adult" but then I was 13 a long time ago and don't remember those subjects coming up among my friends. I remember not getting along with my mother at that age but not to the extent of Julia. She seemed much more whiny than I remember being.


There were a LOT of issues in there, that's for sure! I have a feeling, though, that it might be reflective of the reality immigrant families face every day . . . trying to make their way at the margins of US society. I think the world is both more open and more complicated now than it was when I was a teenager, and that weighs on things, too. I ended up liking this book a lot more than I expected to going into it, and I do think it's an excellent example of YA fiction.


I just started the book last night ... but I promise to be ready for the Zoom discussion next week. Mondays and Tuesdays are not good for me. I can probably make any other time work (evenings might be best?) Thank you for doing this!


I really did like the slice-of-life narrative in the book. I think it was very "real" for a teenage narrator to tell the story that way . . . but . . . I think the time jumps were a bit wild. I was actually surprised by how much time elapsed over the course of the novel.

I had some of the same thoughts that you did about just where Julia WAS in Chicago. I remember reading (may have been in the narrative, but it may have been in a summary somewhere) that she lived on the South Side, but that doesn't seem right. I think she must have been on the West Side . . . And the back-and-forth to Evanston? No way! The most unbelievable part of the book to me . . . was Connor. I just didn't find Connor - and their whole relationship - to be believable.


I had a hard time liking Julia, too. I, too, grew up in a very different environment from Julia's, but I still found I could relate to many of the issues she faced -- maybe not the situations themselves, but certainly the feelings that came out of those situations. YA is not my preferred genre, that's for sure! I usually find it to be a bit dull and superficial. I liked this one more than most, and I was surprised by that.


Yes -- my 13-year-old self would have been scandalized by the issues that come up in Julia's life! That said, I'm sure I would have been able to relate to Julia anyway. Even though my life was quite different from Julia's - and I never faced the situations she was facing - I still would have understood the feelings. The wanting to please your parents but also wanting to be yourself. The rumblings of love. The wanting to grow up and be on your own. The frustration at being held back or silenced. The embarrassment in your own family. I think the author really did a great job with some universal themes that most teens -- even those not in Julia's specific circumstances -- could understand and relate to. And . . . learn from.


I agree with you, Becky. I didn't think I'd like this book at all -- but I did! Although Julia really did have to deal with a LOT of issues, I'm pretty sure life looks like this for a lot of teens living on the margins of US society (and probably many who aren't living on the margins!). I think the author presented a balanced picture of life for Julia -- and I found I could relate to her even though I didn't have to face most of those issues when I was her age. I can certainly understand her feelings -- the frustration, the desire, the drive! I haven't read a lot of YA fiction (some, but not a lot), but I think this was really well-done -- universal themes, an authentic voice, and a well-written story. Thanks so much for reading along with us!


Oh . . . you and I shared so many favorite books! The world is so, so very different today than it was when I was a 13-year-old. I would have been totally scandalized by the issues Julia had to deal with. Totally. And yet . . . I would still have been able to relate to her. It's not the situations. For me, it's the feelings. Wanting to be able to grown up and be on my own. Falling in love (maybe kinda sorta). Separating from my parents. Wanting MORE. I am not a fan of YA fiction, but I do think this author did a great job at making the life of a poor daughter of immigrants completely universal. Thanks so much for reading with us!


My 13-year-old self would have been right there with you! (She would also have been completely scandalized by the issues Julia had to deal with . . . but times are very different now.) I agree that Julia was particularly whiney . . . and that was grating. (I find it's so much easier to love the characters I'm reading about. . . ) But I do think the author did a great job with this book -- creating a main character who can connect across generations -- and probably teach a thing or two to adults and teens alike! Thanks so much for reading with us.


There were definitely LOTS of issues! But I imagine numerous, serious issues are not actually a stretch for kids in Julia's life circumstances -- living at the margins of US society. Being poor . . . being an immigrant . . . being a person of color . . . sadly invites layers of complication. I have a feeling Julia's life looks far too much like many kids' lives these days.

I didn't really get enough information from my reading about the relationships Julia's friends had with their own mothers. I thought Julia's relationships with her friends were authentic and true. (Except her relationship with Connor. Connor seems like the real outlier in this book to me. . . Not terribly realistic to me at all.)


It really was quite an "adult" book, wasn't it? 13-year-old me would have been absolutely scandalized! But . . . 13-year-old me would also have loved it! Even thought Julia's life was very different from mine, I know I would have been able to relate to the feelings she had -- the desire to please her parents while also wanting to separate from them; falling in love (kinda sorta maybe), being embarrassed by your family . . . but also proud to be part of them, wanting to grow up in a hurry, not sure how to hold on to secrets. Julia was an annoying character, for sure! Very, very whiney. But I still couldn't help rooting for her and hoping everything works out okay! Thanks so much for reading with us!


Thanks, Mary! The book is a pretty fast read. (I only started and finished reading it last week myself!) :-)


Something I've noticed about YA fiction now compared to the YA fiction I read when I was a young adult is that it's much more realistic. Some may say there were too many social issues in Julia's life, but the reality is that young adults today are dealing with those issues. I remember many of the books I read as a teenager glossing over those issues, as if they didn't exist. While I didn't love this book, it rang very true for me in this respect.


I agree with you, Sarah. I would imagine that Julia really WOULD be dealing with all those issues in her everyday life. Young adults are dealing with so much these days, and I think Julia's life situation would make that even MORE the case. I think the author did a good job bringing the issues to light in an authentic way without going into too much graphic detail -- keeping it more appropriate for a YA audience.

Margene Smith

This is a perfect YA romance/fairytale that is full of issues facing young people today, especially if they're first generation Americans or even undocumented Americans. It was hard for me to suspend disbelief of Julia's being so thoroughly American and what HER desires and expectations were. Her families expectations made sense as they were living in fear and had only their own culture to rely on. The issues brought up were real issues today, but I thought they were not well realized. This book was about Julia and who, and how, she would become her own person.


I agree, Margene. It was a perfect YA romance/fairytale (and especially her "romance" with Connor). I would have loved all the drama and intense "self-reflection" (if you can call it that) as a young reader. I found Julia's voice to be a good representation of a strong, independent-minded teenager -- but it did make me wonder how she developed that voice in the first place.

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