This one has been on my TBR for a few months. When it was almost chosen as by my long-distance book club last month, I took it as a sign that I should move it up to the top of my list. Plus, this is perfect for my goal of reading more diverse authors and learning about experiences other than my own.
Julia is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, living in a low socioeconomic area of Chicago, and struggling to deal with her parents’ expectations, stressing about how to achieve her own dreams, worrying about how to connect with the boy she has a crush on, and mourning the sudden loss of her “perfect” older sister. So basically, she has all the “normal” problems that teenagers deal with, plus the extra issues of losing someone close to her, undocumented parents and restrictive cultural norms, and more.
There were a lot of things about this book that I absolutely loved. First, and most important, the way this book addresses and deals with mental health is spectacular. Julia is under pressure for so many things, some of which are universal for people her age, while others are extra. And over time, the lack of support and healthy coping mechanisms leads to a deepening depression and anxiety that eventually come to a head. I don’t want to give away too much, but I have to say that the build-up was composed with wonderfully realistic pacing. And afterwards, I loved how equally presented the benefits of both therapy and medication are. I also really appreciated the acknowledgement that mental health is, essentially, a forever struggle, but it is totally and completely possible to control it instead of letting it control you. These are such taboo topics, both in this country in general and in particular for the religious and cultural sub-populations that Julia exists within. So this recognition is critical. In addition, there is an important message about the power of taking the time to see and learn other people’s perspectives, and the understanding and patience it can give you. This is particularly well done when played against the typical teenage self-centeredness that Julia does tend to display. The author does a wonderful job making both situations, self-centeredness and understanding, similarly genuine and valid.
Some other random things that I liked included the use of Spanish throughout. Something that was different in this book than normal though, is that not every use of Spanish was followed by a translation or rewording in English. There were a number of times that you either had to know what the word meant already, pick it up from context clues, or just straight up look up online. This natural bilingual-ness in text and dialogue rang incredibly true for me. And the assumption of it being included in American language/culture, so instinctively, was symbolically on point. I also loved the little infusion of telenovela-like drama (like with Olga’s secrets). It made the reading experience a little bit more frivolous, in light of the seriousness of the rest of the themes. On the other hand, there were a couple things that didn’t sit exactly right with me, including what seemed like the rushed state of Julia’s recovery. Also, I feel like the author tried to address too many topics. I’m not saying all of those issues wouldn’t be present in Julia’s life or experiences, but for a 300-page novel, it was maybe too much to try and fit in while doing justice to each of them and some definitely fell though as a result.
Overall though, this book has so many different stories and types of women who find their own paths to dealing with life and finding success here. There are gorgeous messages about finding and accepting who YOU are and not judging a person’s potential by their “cover.” And it’s a magnificently challenging YA narration that is unforgiving (in a good way) and never backs down in beliefs or critiques.
There is a lot of great recognition/insight into mental health, as I mentioned, so here are some of the quotes that struck me as I read. And also one, you’ll know which, that was just very ME, so I had to include that one too. 🙂
“It comes in waves for me. Lots of waves. Big, big waves. And I guess I have this feeling, you know? That I’m missing something, that there’s something I should know, but I can’t figure it out.”
“One of the things I hate most in life is people telling me to calm down, as if I’m some out-of-control lunatic who isn’t entitled to have feelings.”
“…I want a library so big that I’ll need a ladder to reach all my books.”
“…I always knew something was wrong; I just didn’t know what it was, that it had an official name.”
“How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside?”
“I don’t understand why people can’t just let others be who they are.”
“I hate this feeling, the not knowing. The in-between places are scary, but then again, I understand that nothing is ever certain.”