What's Up in YA

“I wrote the book I needed”: Author Erika L. Sánchez on MEXICAN DAUGHTER, Great YA Reads, and More

Hey YA Readers!

This week’s “What’s Up in YA?” is sponsored by All The Wind In The World by Samantha Mabry.

Sarah Jac Crow and James Holt have fallen in love working in the endless fields that span a bone-dry Southwest. To protect themselves, they’ve learned to keep their love hidden from the people who might use it against them. When a horrible accident forces them to start over on a new, possibly cursed ranch, the delicate balance of their lives begins to give way. April Genevieve Tucholke, author of Wink Poppy Midnight, says, “Mabry’s lyrical writing sizzles with the same heat as the relentless desert sun.” Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, All the Wind in the World is a breathtaking tale.

I’m really excited to share an interview with Erika L. Sánchez today, author of the forthcoming YA book I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, which hits shelves next Tuesday. The book has been short listed for the National Book Award and is one you absolutely need on your TBR ASAP.

Let’s dig in!

Give us the pitch for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

It’s a coming of age story that takes place in Chicago about a Mexican American girl named Julia who loses her sister.

What inspired this story? What made you want to write a YA book?

As Toni Morrison advised, I wrote the book I needed. I never read stories about people like me when I was growing up, so I thought I should write a novel that young women of color could connect to.


The title of your book is also a pretty apt pitch for it, and one of the things that we’ve seen over and over in the world of YA is how critical readers can be toward imperfect, flawed female characters who don’t make great decisions through the course of the story. How does Julia’s experience growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, as well as the “imperfect” daughter, play into or against the assumptions or feelings readers may have about the flawed female character?

It’s such a frustrating conversation! As you point out, the title is really straightforward, so I don’t understand why reviewers are surprised Julia is so flawed. I resent that men are never criticized for this kind of characterization. Women are always expected to be pleasing, but that’s so boring. (Like when men on the street tell me to smile. Hey, maybe I don’t want to! Also, mind your business!) Julia is definitely cantankerous, but she has reasons for being so angry and unhappy. Her life is difficult—her parents come from a very different world and she’s trying to figure herself out while grieving the loss of her sister.


In what ways did your own experiences growing up as the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants influence your writing?

My parents arrived in the US in 1978 and got amnesty during the Reagan administration. They eventually became citizens. Throughout my childhood, I watched them struggle to provide for us with their factory wages, and I felt so guilty about that. They are incredibly resilient and hardworking. I wanted to honor their experiences by telling a nuanced story about an immigrant family.


You grew up in Cicero, Illinois, which is a south suburb of Chicago and it’s roughly 90% Hispanic/Latino. Can you talk a bit about growing up here, about the sorts of books and reading you may or may not have been exposed to, and, maybe, talk a bit about the experience you had with the local public library?

In terms of YA or children’s lit, I read a lot of Judy Blume, which I loved, but man, I had trouble relating to those white kids at times. Their worlds were so foreign to me because everyone around me was brown and broke. I read everything I could get my hands on because I was such an inquisitive kid. I remember once checking out a book titled “Coping with Satanism,” just out of curiosity. (Lol) Also, books about spies, chemistry, and the “discovery” of America. I was all over the place. Unfortunately, the local library wasn’t a very welcoming place, so I would just check the books out and go home. I didn’t interact much with the librarians. Recently, I learned that they required government issued IDs for library cards.. I explained to them that this policy was discriminatory toward undocumented people and they agreed to change it!


Beyond YA, you write many other things. Tell us a little about your writing life and what you’re working on now.

I’m often working on a bunch of things at once, probably because I have a short attention span. I write poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. My poetry collection just  came out in July and I’m almost finished with a collection of personal essays. Also, I’m teaching creative writing  at Princeton, which I love. It’s all amazing, but I’m a little bit tired!


What books were you reading as a teenager? What books were resonating most with you?

I loved reading books about misfits. Catcher in the Rye was really important to me. Holden Caulfield cracked me up; his cynicism felt so familiar.  I also loved The Awakening, The Bell Jar, and other books about women struggling to find their place in the world.

What YA books have you read recently and want to make sure every YA reader picks up?

The Hate U Give was fantastic. It’s a bestseller for a reason. I loved the way she creates complex characters that push against the stereotypes society imposes upon them. A drug dealer isn’t necessarily a horrible person, for instance. Also, speaking of flawed brown girls, The Education of Margot Sanchez was so fun. I love the voice of the protagonist.


If you could go back in time and hand your teenage self any one YA book, what would it be and why? 

Damn, this is a tough one. I think Girl in Pieces by Katherine Glasgow would have been so comforting because like the protagonist, I struggled with depression. I need to know I wasn’t alone.

Snap up some cheap YA reads…

Dig into Emery Lord’s The Start of You and Me for $1.99 if you’re itching for some romance.

$1.99 for Megan Miranda’s Fracture will satisfy your need for a mystery/thriller.

And if you’re looking for horror, $1.99 will get that for you in Madeleine Roux’s Asylum.



Thanks for hanging out and we’ll see you back here next week with a round-up of YA news and happenings. If you’re itching for a little more YA in your life, don’t miss the latest episode of Hey YA, wherein Eric and I talk about YA authors who cross genres, celebrity YA authors, and so much more.

–Kelly Jensen, @veronikellymars

Currently reading One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus