“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sanchez: A Discussion Guide for Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

Erika L. Sanchez’s novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a first-person narrative of a teenage girl struggling with her sister’s death, her parents’ disapproval, and ultimately with depression and attempted suicide. By studying Sanchez’s novel, writers can explore managing a depressed and potentially unlikeable main character, the balance of dialogue to narrative text, and the tools writers use to create tone in their novels.

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Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Sanchez’s methods.

These discussion questions were inspired by the KidLit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Julia is depressed and maybe even bitter. This is part of her character, and her clinical depression is a major plot point. How does Sanchez accurately portray Julia’s depression and still make Julia a likable character? Is she likable? Why or why not? Consider your own main character—are they likable? What makes them likable? What makes them unlikable? Do the unlikable traits pull necessary empathy out of the reader?
  2. Sanchez’s text is short on dialogue. How does this hurt the novel? How does it help the novel? What is the sweet spot in the ratio between dialogue and narrative text? Does it fluctuate depending on the subject matter, composition, and plot of the novel? What do you look for as a reader? What do you do as a writer? If you move the dialogue to narrative text ratio in your own manuscripts, what is the effect? What would have happened if Sanchez had used more dialogue?
  3. Much of Sanchez’s novel, told through the first-person account of a teen with clinical depression, is bleak. Depression, the death of a sibling, an emotionally distant father, an emotionally abusive mother, and poverty make the book heavy with sadness. How does Sanchez provide light in her novel? How do authors successfully present stark realities and keep a book entertaining? Is Julia’s sarcastic humor helpful? Are her nasty obscenity-laced outbursts funny? Or terrifying? Or both? How do you balance serious and heavy subjects with lightness in your manuscript?
  4. Compare and contrast I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with Challenger Deep. Both present teens with mental health issues in the first person. How is first person essential to both stories? Would third person have worked? When mental health is a driving characteristic of your main character, is first person the way to go?
  5. Compare and contrast I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with The Hate U Give. While both stories feature main characters who are young women of color, growing up in poverty, in dangerous neighborhoods, and both main characters lose someone close to them in a tragic way, the tone of the two books is very different. How do Sanchez and Thomas craft characterization, setting, and plot to create the unique tones of their novels? Examine the minor characters and how they interact with the main character—how does this affect the tone of the novels? For example, how do the white, preppy, and rich boyfriend characters differ? How do they provide similar plot movement? Consider the role your main character and your minor characters play in creating tone in your novel.

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