“I don’t know why I’ve always been like this, why the smallest things make me ache inside. There’s a poem I read once, titled “The World Is Too Much with Us,” and I guess that is the best way to describe the feeling—the world is too much with me.”
In college, I took a lot of courses in Mexican history, Chicano literature, and everything in between to earn a specialization with my history degree. I have always been fascinated by the differences between the United States and Mexico-from how we were settled by Europeans, to the genocides of indigenous peoples, to independence and beyond, it just fascinates me.
This is a book that I would have loved to read in one of those classes because it fits in so well. But what I loved most about it is that while the main character, Julia, talks often about her Mexican family, heritage, and customs, the book never pushes it to an extreme level. Julia and her family are Mexican in a way that oozes through their conversations, their beliefs and their way of life in the United States. It was refreshing and I loved it.
The book focuses on Julia and her parents after the death of Julia's older sister, Olga. Olga was everything that Julia isn't-focused on staying home with her parents to attend community college, focused on remaining a good, Mexican daughter. Julia, on the other hand, has dreams. She wants to leave town to go to college. She doesn't want to stay home and learn to make tortillas and other Mexican dishes. She smokes, she swears, she gets into trouble at school, she wants to wear clothes that her mother hates, she dates a white boy in secret.
With Olga's death, Julia is left feeling like she cannot live up to her parents' expectations. The world begins to crash in on her as she struggles between the expectations of her parents and her own happiness. It's written in a way that while you feel for Julia's angst and the somewhat oppressive nature of her parents, you also see their point of view-they now only have one daughter, and she seems determined to leave them after everything they've gone through.
It packs quite a punch.
And I loved it.
Some of what stuck out to me, as mentioned above, is the easy way Sanchez weaves in pieces of Mexican culture and heritage into her writing. It never feels like she is trying to educate the reader about what it means to be Mexican, but you come away with far more knowledge than you had before. From descriptions of altars and cooking to religion and La Llorana, the book is full of vibrancy in relation to who Julia and her family are and where they came from. There's also talk about immigration and crossing the border, as both of Julia's parents are undocumented. The book even takes us to Mexico with Julia when she visits her relatives and the descriptions of Mexico and living conditions south of the U.S. border only amplified the cultural struggle Julia feels throughout the book.
“Be careful. Please. The border…The fucking border.” I feel a wildness spreading through me. “It’s nothing but a giant wound, a big gash between the two countries. Why does it have to be like that? I don’t understand. It’s just some random, stupid line. How can anyone tell people where they can and can’t go?”
While this is definitely a book about grief-we see how Julia and both of her parents "deal" with the loss of Olga, it is definitely a book about generational and cultural differences. It's moving and inspiring and everything I hoped it would be. There are some incredibly emotional parts to the book, especially when the book shifts tone in the last half. The book also contains a bit of a mystery, as Julia investigates just who her sister was and if she was really as perfect as she pretended to be.
It was amazing and I loved it. I happened to bring it to school one day to read during reading time in my junior level classes, and a few kids seemed interested after I told them a bit about the story. It's a definitely a book I'm going to have our media specialist pick up for the library.
“How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”