I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez and Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu are two of the most powerful YA books of the past year. Every high school classroom has readers looking for books like these and characters like Julia Reyes and Vivian Carter. If you haven’t yet met Julia and Vivian, please introduce yourself and then introduce them to others!
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter opens with Julia and her family mourning the sudden death of older sister Olga, the seemingly perfect child. Then Julia, the family rebel, discovers some surprising clues that maybe her sister wasn’t so perfect after all. Julia’s family life was complex before her sister’s death. Born in America to undocumented Mexican immigrant parents, Julia dreams of attending college in New York and becoming a writer, aspirations that her parents do not understand or accept. With this important book, author Erika L. Sánchez gives readers an authentic look at the lives of the growing number of young people with one foot in America and the other in Mexico. But the novel is more universal than that. As Julia investigates her sister’s secrets, she also learns details about her parents’ earlier lives, and readers are reminded how the people we think we know and understand are often shaped by their buried pasts.
Author Jennifer Mathieu gets everything right in her novel Moxie. The main character Vivian lives in a small Texas town, and she is more than fed up with how most of the boys in her high school get away with degrading the girls. “Make me is a sandwich” is a favorite taunt, but things eventually go far beyond that. Inspired by her mom’s RiotGrrrl past, Vivian creates and distributes a zine titled Moxie to challenge the girls in her school to resist and fight back.
The girls don’t know who started the magazine, and they react to it in different ways, but as the behavior of the boys and men in the school becomes more and more despicable (and believable), they adopt the zine’s motto “Moxie girls fight back.” Moxie has humor, but it’s mostly just fantastic because of its daring, honesty, and integrity.
In many ways a public high school is a microcosm of its community and culture. We live in a time when a disgraced judge in Alabama had a viable path to the U. S. Senate despite lying about preying on underage girls when he was in his thirties. The President of the United States proudly admits to assaulting women, then dismisses it as locker room talk, as if that makes it okay. A prominent Hollywood producer routinely intimidates and assaults women (including someone I know personally) and gets away with it for a long time. If there was ever a moment when a novel like Moxie is needed, it’s right now.
I hope libraries and classrooms will put a spotlight on I Am Not your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Moxie. Get them out there. The excellent covers will do some of the promotional work, but please talk up these important books!