Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I first learned about The Education of Margot Sanchez at the inaugural meeting of a grassroots group of publishing professionals who identify as people of color. We were all asked to bring a book to swap, and when I saw the cover of that ARC, featuring an illustration of what was clearly a teenage Latina girl with thick curly hair, I knew I had to have it. I wasn’t alone: many people in the group also clamored for the book, excited for a rarely seen contemporary young adult novel starring a Latina protagonist.

When I saw the cover of that ARC, featuring an illustration of what was clearly a teenage Latina girl with thick curly hair, I knew I had to have it.

My interest in the book was very personal. Margot Sanchez, the titular character, is a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx who lives in the neighborhood of Riverdale. I am also a curly-haired Puerto Rican woman who went to school in the same Bronx neighborhood. Growing up as a Bronx bookworm, it was next to impossible to find books with Latinx characters from my city… that I actually wanted to read. Sure, there were some books about first generation kids struggling to adapt to American life, but I was a fourth generation kid on my father’s side of the family. Then there were the YA books set in the hood, where Latinx kids described the darkness they experienced in gritty urban areas. Even though I was born and raised in the Bronx, gang violence, and baby mama drama wasn’t part of my adolescent experience. Most of my teenage years were spent writing poetry at my local library, rehearsing for high school musicals, and pining after emo rock singers.

There were countless books about suburban white teenagers, and the everyday problems they faced–but I could never quite find a single book that spoke to my experience growing up.

There were countless books about suburban white teenagers, and the everyday problems they faced–but I could never quite find a single book that spoke to my experience growing up.Luckily, writers like Lilliam Rivera (along with Zoraida Córdova,Daniel José OlderGabby Rivera, and more!) are filling that void. 

The Education of Margot Sanchez follows Margot during the summer after her freshman year. After she steals her father’s credit card to impress her prep school friends, Margot now has to work off her debt at one of her father’s supermarkets. At first, all Margot can think about are her friends’ poolside text messages while she’s stocking shelves. But as the summer passes, Margot soon discovers that she can’t continue to compartmentalize her Bronx life from her prep school life. Especially after family secrets threaten to tear everything apart.

When seeing words like “bonchinche” and “alcapurria,” I was able to connect deeper to the story than if I were reading “gossip” or “fritter.”

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Reading The Education of Margot Sanchez was in some ways like returning home. When seeing words like “bonchinche” and “alcapurria,” I was able to connect deeper to the story than if I were reading “gossip” or “fritter.” While I read plenty of books that utilized slang from the Midwest or southern California, I never got the chance to read a book that used the same kind of words I’d hear from my own family. Margot’s interactions with her coworkers at the supermarket reminded me of my former neighbors and classmates in the best possible way. Having read so many renderings of Manhattan, and Brooklyn, the Bronx has often eluded my literary grasp. The author’s take on the Bronx was revelatory to me. Seeing my neighborhood from Margot’s eyes offered a fresh new perspective, and now I’m hungry for more of them.

The novel’s description as “Pretty in Pink comes to the Bronx” is spot-on. Margot’s struggle to accept her identity—including her humble background and her own personal quirks—mirrors Andie Walsh’s conflicts in the classic ‘80s film. I was also reminded of Ned Vizzini’s novels, where his protagonists often deal with finding their place in a world that doesn’t seem to have a space for them. Margot says, “I don’t even know what I am yet. I’m just maintaining” early on in the novel. As she gets an idea of who she is and connects to her friends in a more tangible way, I couldn’t stop rooting for her—and I know that many readers will, too.

Now there will be plenty of Latinx teenagers, who maybe for the first time, will see themselves in a book. I hope they feel the same excitement I did when I saw The Education of Margot Sanchez. And I’m so happy they now have the opportunity to do so.

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel from Simon & Schuster available now in bookstores everywhere.

NORMA PEREZ-HERNANDEZ is an acquiring editorial assistant at Kensington Publishing Corp. She has worked on a variety of projects, including fiction, romance, mysteries, thrillers, and non-fiction. A New York City native, Norma studied English literature at the Macaulay Honors College at The City College of New York and is a graduate of the Publishing Certificate Program at City College. She is thrilled to build a list with diverse authors and books.  @normajeanesays

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