Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I think my heart just might explode. There are so many INCREDIBLE YA books coming out in early 2017 - I keep thinking there's no way this streak of 5-star books can last and then BOOM. Lilliam Rivera's The Education of Margot Sanchez ups the game once again. Can I get a 10-star award?

OK - so here's the gist. Margot, who lives in Riverdale in the Bronx (she describes it as "rich adjacent" (34)), is from a Puerto Rican immigrant family. Her father operates two grocery stores in the Bronx, which she ends up working at for the summer because she charged a shopping spree on his credit card without permission. It's not like stealing is a norm for her - but now attending a fancier prep school, she's trying to survive and jump up the social ladder to make her home there, and fit into everyone's idea of what you should do, be, and look like (hence the shopping spree). Just as she was starting to fit in with the 'in crowd' and invited to spend her summer at the Hamptons with her prep school friends, she got caught while shopping for her new wardrobe. So now instead of scheming her way into this prep school world, she's stuck at her dad's store working to pay back her debts. A story of so many things, but primarily one of finding your way through all the complications and contradictions that life has to offer - she straddles a lot of difficult situations. Does she hang with the prep school boy that she thinks is her key to 'making it' or a new 'local' love interest? Old friends or new friends? Family or... going it alone? Her true self, or who everyone else thinks she should be?

SO MANY EMOTIONS. We feel you Margot. This story is about everything big picture, yet also the finest of details at the same time (which makes it such a page turner that you won't be able to put it down, really!). Strongly rooted in location, the setting primes the questions the novel inevitably poses about gentrification. Beautifully weaving Spanish and English, the language too symbolizes the choices she faces. And exploring issues of education, class, race, love, family, community, and belonging, this novel is a true bildungsroman - as Margot works to figure out who she is, who she once was, and who she wants to be.

This novel also fills my heart in a whole other kind of way as a reader and educator too on top of just being an amazing novel - LOVE having a Latina lead in YA! Diversity in publishing, among other industries, clearly has lots of work to do, and Rivera with this novel has added a beautiful novel to the YA cannon. The blog HelloGiggles called out the stats - noting that "According to the 2015 publishing statistics from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, only 2.4% of books portrayed Latinx characters." While universal themes will always create a common bond in every story no matter the background, I am so glad I'm following Margot Sanchez and no one else in this story. We need to do far better than 2.4%.

Their post quoted Rivera on the matter too: "We have an administration that is doing all they can to silence our voices and deport our families... They are desperate to dictate who gets to write this narrative, to tell the story, to make history. My story may be a coming-of-age story, but it is also a story about gentrification and assimilation. It is an American story and — regardless of who is currently in power — I believe there is a place for the novel, and for so many others, to be heard.”

I cannot wait to read more of Rivera's (she was beyond sweet to reply to my random tweets as I fan-girled and could find zero adequate words to describe my emotions), she shared while there are not plans for Margot P.II, more is in the works hopefully! So stay tuned - grab this one and look forward to more to come :)

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