It is a good and healthy thing for a teen not to know who she is or what she will become. Locking yourself into an identity or a single way of being when young isn't tenable for the rest of your life. It's totally and completely normal to feel lost, directionless, or torn in many different directions as a teen. Note that I didn't say it was also fun--this part of being a teen is really scary. Actually, I'm pretty sure that figuring out who you are and what you want is a human issue, not just a teen one, but that's a story for another day. For now, we're talking about teens and teen literature.
So having a teen narrator who is confused and conflicted is authentic and true. But having a teen book that is confused and conflicted creates a difficult reading experience. Unfortunately, The Education of Margot Sanchez is the latter.
I desperately wanted to love this. One of my reading goals in 2017 is to read even more diversely and to read more #ownvoices books. This is one of my #diversitybingo2017 titles--a Latinx MC, #ownvoices title. I wish that I loved every book that I read--I really do, despite my apparent glee in writing cranky book reviews. Getting a book published is no easy feat, and for authors of color, particularly women of color in the YA lit world, it's a Herculean task. But I did not love The Education of Margot Sanchez. The book attempts to take on too many issues and loses potency as thought-provoking topics like drug use and gentrification turn into bullet points, not thinking points.
*warning, I am totally going to spoil all of the book in this review. So, you know, ye be warned and all that piratical jazz*
Margot seriously does not want to work at her Papi's grocery store this summer. Her best friends Serena and Camille are with all of her other classmates from Somerset Prep are hanging in the Hamptons. Even Nick--especially Nick, her hot classmate who might have a thing for her. But how is he ever going to do anything about it when he's in the Hamptons and Margot is ... stocking shelves?
Everyone in her family calls her Princesa, and even though Margot insists on her given name being used, it's clear that she really is a princesa. Chipping her gel manicure is a Big Deal. Possibly a catastrophe.
But Margot just wants to belong somewhere. Her entire life, her Mami and Papi have pushed her and her brother to do great things. When Junior lost his wrestling scholarship and flunked out of college, it fell on Margot's shoulders to go to Somerset, get into an Ivy League school, and become a lawyer/doctor/rich person. Yeah, so her parents have a nice house--it's in the Bronx. So her Mami has some designer clothes--it's nothing like what the girls at Westwood have. Margot is the only Latina at her school, and she can't afford to have friends that she actually likes. No--her goal is to make friends with the people who have power. Girls like Serena and Camille. So Camille is cutting and mean--she acts like that with everyone. It's how she shows she cares ... right? And so Serena kind of talked Margot into stealing her Papi's credit card for some new clothes--that's how all families work, right?
Wrong. Margot is busted, and her punishment is to work all summer at one of her Papi's grocery stores in the Bronx to earn back the money she stole. This is the part where you'd expect Margot to learn about how her Puerto Rican heritage is not something to be ashamed of, and how hard work is good, and all that nice I AM LEARNING A LESSON, GOSHDANGIT book stuff. Am I right?
Well, she doesn't. I mean, a little bit. There's a little learning.
At the store, Margot faces degradations like stocking cans of soup with guys who rap dirty lyrics, pacifying the abuelitas who come in and demand lots of meat in Spanish that Margot can't quite follow, and fending off the mockery of the cashieristas, led but the ultra-sassy Jasmine. Per Margot, Jasmine wears too much sparkly blush, and this makes her kind of slutty. Ye gods! The rouged trollop trope will not die! You can pry my NARS blush from my cold, dead fingers.
Trying to escape the lower-class nightmare of her father's store, Margot runs outside for break and meets a totally hot dude named Moises, who is protesting the sale of a local apartment building to make way for a new luxury high-rise and the inevitable gentrification that follows. He's so passionate. So kind. So hated by Margot's violent older brother Junior. Obviously, she has to fall for him.
But Margot can't be with Moises. He's not Somerset-acceptable. And for that matter, neither is her former best friend Elizabeth, dropped like the proverbial hot potato once it was discovered she did not get in to Somerset. And then Margot mopes around wondering why no one likes her. Girl. You ditched all your actual friends and everything that made you who you are in order to have fake friends with yacht-tans.
Margot gets drunk at the hyped-up Hamptons party and has sex with Nate, who has the personality of a doorpost. She realizes she doesn't like him. Then she goes home and finds her brother's drug stash and catches Papi in a steamy, steamy car with Jasmine, who is pregnant with his baby. Margot is embarrassed that her family is messed up, and realizes that she has to address the difference between who she really is and who she is at Somerton. So she marches right back to Selena and Camille and tells them that they''re not friends anymore because they never were friends because all they do is test her to see how high she'll jump. She tells them off and embraces the vintage clothes she's always loved and listens to the reggaeton that makes her groove and dates the boy she actually likes.
HA! None of that happens! Fooled you! Margot's *big confession* to her "friends" is that her parents are getting a divorce and her brother is going into rehab, so her family isn't perfect. And she'll probably get therapy because one of the cashieristas is also the mom of her new half brother or sister. And then her "friends" don't really care anyway, since they either have divorced parents or wish their parents would up and divorce already.
O-kay. And Margot learns what from that experience, exactly? That her concerns are dismissed as being trivial even when it was really scary to speak up about them? Okay, yeah, good friends you've got there.
Here's my main issue with this book: everything is an absolute. You are either a good girl or you're a slut. You're a good guy or you're a drug dealer. You're classy or you're trashy. Margot doesn't really learn anything because she pretty much stays firmly in the "I am so much better than all of you peasants" camp. I guess she learns that life sucks when her dad is outed as a serial cheater and her brother as a drug dealer and user. And although she takes tentative steps toward repairing her friendship with Elizabeth and setting things straight with Moises, she never seems to realize the extent of how her striving to be someone she isn't has alienated all of the people who love her for who she is.
Perhaps other readers will love this book. I hope that they look at Margot and her family and see something there that reflects their own experience. I cannot speak to that, although I thought that the Puerto Rican and Bronx aspects of the book were the most lively and engaging. I am evaluating this book from the structure and character development that should--should--drive the plot. Everything feels a bit slapdash. Juggling multiple Very Big Issues can be done very well--please see Gabi, A Girl in Pieces for that (pregnant BFF, other BFF kicked out by family, pregnant mother, drug addict dad, body issues, boy issues), but the problems in Margot's story don't integrate into the whole. There's her whole "who am I?" conflict, and the Nate/Moises thing, and her parents, and also the gentrification sub-subplot that tries really hard to make a point but just ends up as an ornament.
The Education of Margot Sanchez would do well to go back to class for a bit to gain some focus.
I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.