The novel s a coming of age story about Julia Reyes, a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago. The book begins with the death of her sister, Olga, who appeared to be the perfect daughter until Julia sets out to discover who she truly was. In the process, Julia begins to understand her family and herself.
That (combined with the beautiful cover - hey - covers matter) was enough to get me to read the book but it turns out that it undersold the experience of reading this novel or rather, having it read to me by the talented Kyla Garcia.
What caught me by surprise was the simple beauty of the prose, the depth of the insight into depression and the skilful pacing of Julia's emotional journey.
Julia Reyes speaks directly to camera throughout this novel. The reader becomes her confidante as she describes her life in the immediate aftermath of her sister's death. Much of the success of the novel comes from Julia's distinctive voice and the honesty with which she shares her anger, her frustrations, her wit, her passion for writing and her complex and painful love for her parents and, eventually, herself.
Julia is struggling with the gap between the life she has and the life she wants. She believes that her true self is not only unseen by those who love her but is constantly under threat from the pressures they place on her to be the good Mexican daughter her sister was seen to be. She is depressed and anxious, prone to outbreaks of temper, constantly in conflict with her mother and only truly happy when she writes.
Erika Sanchez's simple, precise, beautiful prose, captures Julia perfectly and helps the reader see her clearly in a way that seems effortless and natural but which requires great skill.
The novel deals with death, love, cultural and personal identity and the impact of trauma and secrets on our ability to be honest with ourselves and others. This is not an easy ride but it is one that is filled with deep compassion, a reluctance to judge and a refusal to simplify or avoid unpleasant things.
While this is a book about a Young Adult, I see it as mainstream literature and not a YA genre piece. This is a remarkable book that will engage the emotions and the minds of readers of all ages.
I recommend the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to listen to a sample.
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