Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

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3.5 out of 5 Coming-of-Age Stars

Sadly, I didn’t get out of this what I wanted. It wasn’t a bad book, by any means, and it is a necessary book – meaning one written by a Latinx author, given a good publishing push and featuring a Latinx main character and her family. We need diverse, own voices. I am not a huge fan of contemporary, but I was really drawn in by the blurb, especially the Pretty in Pink aspect. But that might have been what didn’t work for me.

Margot Sanchez, nicknamed Princesa, is a sheltered, more than slightly spoiled teenager. Her family owns and operates two supermarkets, struggling amidst the gentrification of the Bronx neighborhood it’s in. This brings problems, but all Margot cares about is the parties she’s missing in the Hamptons. She might live in the Bronx, but she goes to an uptown prep school, where her sense of style, her clothes, her accent and her friends would never fit in. So she’s started making herself over. Part of that makeover was a new wardrobe, paid for, at the suggestion of her new friends, on Papi’s credit card. Yeah, those rich kids might get away with that, but not Margot. She is required to pay back the money she spent by working in the grocery store, plus the following school year’s requirements. When her parents want her to learn a lesson, they are thorough. This gets in the way of her dreams of hanging out with her new friends and going to their parties in the Hamptons. She figures she’ll be in the office, filing her nails, keeping out of everyone’s way. But no, her father has her in the stock room, working. Like, actual lifting and stacking.

From the get go, I did not like Margot. She’s entitled, spoiled, just so entitled and spoiled it’s maddening. She looks down on the women that work at the grocery store, the cashieristas. But, she gets that from home. Her family, while very traditionally Puerto Rican, are all about integrating. She is encouraged to fit in at school, to find the most popular people. Her father has no problem with gentrification taking place in their community because it will help out his store. He also straight up tells his daughter that their family is better than the people that work at the grocery store. Part of the reason she is being sent to this prep school is to get into college and make something of herself, to prove that her family is a successful, American family. Every other week her parent’s are changing her future – calling her a doctor or a lawyer, depending on who they are talking to Part of the reason for this is because her brother was put on this track first, and screwed it up. He lost his wrestling scholarship and was basically kicked out of school. Now he works at the store, but it’s clear his heart isn’t in it. He’s a total jerk to Margot and the misogyny in this is blatant. She’s not allowed around boys, at all – her mother telling her friendships between boys and girls are impossible and it’s a stupid American idea. Clearly, the way the men in the family treat women, you can see where that comes from. Junior, however, sexually harasses all the girls at work, and no one says anything. Margot is even yelled at by one of the girls when she says she might talk to her dad about it – because the girl who did the complaining will most likely pay the price for snitching. It’s hard to imagine this attitude still exists in modern day. I don’t mind an unlikeable character, but there was one aspect that really, really bothered me.

Margot intentionally makes herself over into someone who would fit in with the Somserset Prep set. She and her best friend, Elizabeth, were meant to go to the school together, but Elizabeth didn’t get in. Despite the fact that Margot can’t stop reminiscing about Elizabeth and ruminating on their past, she’s eager to drop her for the girls I call “the bitches.” There are two of them – Serena and Camille, your basic mean girls. They criticize her clothes, one of them tries to act like a hardass, as Margot says, as if she’s trying to out-Bronx the girl from the Bronx. Meanwhile, Margot has to be ANYTHING but Bronx to fit in – she doesn’t even admit she lives in the Bronx. This was just kinda too much, and too obvious. I don’t see why anyone would willingly do this. I’m not saying teens don’t do this very thing, but they don’t do it with this internal monologue. She’s never comfortable or herself with these people she thinks are her friends. She even admits her job with Camille is to be her puppy. Her puppy for fuck’s sake.

I guess my personal lack of enjoyment is that this reads like a “typical YA.” I hate that term. YA should not be, and for the most part, isn’t, typical, despite what some journalists have propagated, and even what some readers think. I see people say “I don’t read YA” all the time, and I just think, man are you missing out. YA is as diverse in subject and quality as any genre is (though it isn’t a genre…. it’s a marketing term, even more than a POV). So many aspects and tropes just felt very transparent. Beyond the whole “I have to be a puppy for my friends to like me, it was obvious something more than hating working at the store is going on with Junior. It’s obvious something is going on with Jasmine, one of the angry cashieristas. It’s obvious something is going on with Margot’s mother. But Margot doesn’t see any of it. I also can’t believe someone would let themselves become someone else’s puppy in order to be liked. Fitting in is one thing, completely losing yourself  on purpose is another. I didn’t like the way she let people treat her – but I really hated how she treated people. If someone doesn’t advance her social standing, she has no use for them. When her family says she can’t go out with a boy, she takes off and does it anyway – but she lies about it. She doesn’t tell them HA I DID WHAT I WANTED BECAUSE YOUR SEXUAL POLITICS ARE DRACONIAN! She goes and does it, but doesn’t say anything about it. So what was the point? Margot doesn’t do anything for her internal satisfaction, it’s all surface. So it just read very young.

There were lots of issues brought up in this. Responsibility, for sure. Fitting in when you’re the outsider, either for your accent or your clothing choices and financial situation – and the fact she’s the only Latina. Relationships between girls and boys. But I felt like the author was just listing things and telling me stuff instead of showing me stuff. There was a lot of showing – I mean, she has a flirtation with a boy from her neighborhood and a huge crush on the boy she’s “supposed” to like – meaning a boy that will help her fit in better with her prep school friends. There were also lots of fights with her parents and brother, but very little is accomplished with these fights. Every loud, angry interaction felt like filler, and the real subjects were discussed in the prose. There wasn’t a connection between the drama and the dialog. She would do things that had no affect on the story and were not really resolved or impactful. Like I said, they felt like filler.

The last third of the book, there is a huge escalation in the drama, far beyond what I thought there would be, far beyond spoiled teen drama, and Margot has to face who she is and what her family is going through. It did turn the book around and drive up the rating, because I didn’t see how this was going to have any kind of resolution. And some things don’t, but you know, life is like that.

So I feel like this really is better for younger readers. I believe this is this authors first book, and I really look forward to more of her work.

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