[Review] The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I read The Education of Margot Sanchez a  few days after hearing the devastating news that Donald Trump had been elected the next president of the United States. I’m sure the feelings of loss and despair are still fresh in our minds for many of us. I tried distracting myself by reading a good book but nothing was a good enough distraction. I started and put aside three adult literary fiction novels until I came to Lilliam Rivera’s wonderful YA contemporary novel. The Education of Margot Sanchez was the perfect light and fast read with captivating characters and riveting family drama. I devoured the novel in two sittings because it was that good! 

Margot is a teen who lives a relatively comfortable life. Her middle-class family is able to afford the tuition for  Somerset Prep., a private school where Margot is able to befriend wealthy teens with whom she can make social and potentially professional connections. Despite how fiercely competitive Somerset is, both academically and in its social hierarchies, Margot loves this school and wants to impress the friends she’s made. So one day, seeking her friends’ approval, she “borrows” her father’s credit card to spruce up her wardrobe. Needless to say, this was a terrible mistake for which she is immediately grounded. Her punishment? To work at Sanchez & Sons Supermarket, the family business that her father has spent years of hard work to reach respectable success. 

Margot is of course distraught that her summer has been ruined by having to work as essentially (in her eyes) an indentured servant while her friends are having a glamorous vacation in The Hamptons. This is the first lesson in Margot’s “education,” and there will be many. Most of her life has been relatively comfortable and privileged, as she was seldom denied anything she wanted, within reason. But her friends at the fancy new school spark a sense of teen rebellion in her and for the first time she learns that her actions have real-world consequences that affect others. 

The rest of Margot’s education will be doled out over the course of a summer while working at her family’s supermarket. She will learn about privilege, the realities of gentrification, and especially about how complicated it is to navigate familial and romantic relationships. 

What I liked:

 

Family plays a large role 

In many YA contemporary novels, family plays a minor role in the plot or even in the protagonists’ lives. But in The Education of Margot Sanchez, family takes center stage. In fact, the family drama and dynamics are characters themselves! Margot’s immediate family is her mother, father, and older brother Junior, who are all interesting and fleshed-out characters. I became invested in their complicated and strained relationships very easily. The secrets they keep to themselves and the surprising betrayals make for some riveting material. Perhaps Margot doesn’t think so, but she will certainly learn some hard lessons about acceptance, forgiveness, and growing along with your family.

 

Spanish words and sentences are not italicized!

Yes, there is quite a bit of Spanish in this novel. Margot’s family is Puerto Rican and often switch back and forth between English and Spanish, which I found very comforting. The cadence and timing of their code-switching was also very natural and realistic, so it made a lot of sense that their seamless transition from one language to another was not interrupted by italics. Some people may not care at all whether non-English words in a book written predominantly in English are italicized, but to me it means everything. The subtle break/hesitation that is prevented by not using italics shows that Spanish is not foreign or “other.” In books where the characters are native speakers or bilingual, there’s no reason to italicize because both languages are an intrinsic part of us. I hope more books follow suit.

 

Good mix of light and serious 

The novel starts in a very fun, light-hearted way that eases us into Margot’s world and perspective. Early on, Margot meets a handsome boy named Moises, who stands outside her family’s supermarket collecting signatures for a petition to prevent the construction of luxury condos in The Bronx. It becomes clear that Margot likes Moises, though she doesn’t overtly express it. She also has a crush on a boy from Somerset she wants to impress. The internal conflict she faces about these two love-interests is fun to read, so there is definitely a romance element in this novel, but it is balanced with more serious subjects. Not that there is anything wrong with a YA book that’s a fun, feel-good romance, but a healthy mix light-hearted and serious is a good thing, in my opinion. The second half of the novel ramps up in seriousness, with the family’s dirty laundry being laid out in the open for everyone to see. Margot also succumbs to peer pressure and makes some questionable decisions that she must come to terms with. 

 

Final Thoughts

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and quickly became invested in Margot and her family’s stories. They are flawed individuals whose struggles were familiar and realistic. They also speak like I do! These similarities allowed me to see myself in Margot’s family perhaps more easily than other readers, which I readily admit contributed to my enjoyment of the novel. I honestly don’t have many negative things to say about The Education of Margot Sanchez. But I do wish the gentrification story line would have been explored further. Both Margot and teen readers would benefit greatly from a more detailed and nuanced depiction of how gentrification affects the lives of real people.

I appreciated that the story ended on a hopeful note regarding the gentrification subplot and Margot ended her summer a hell of a lot more mature than when the novel started. What this book does excellently is capture the time in our lives when we’re faced with an onslaught of life experiences that will irrevocably change us and will spark the slow transition from childhood to (young) adulthood. It happens differently for everyone, but in the end life catches up with us all and we’re forced to adapt. The best we can do is learn and grow from these experiences. Margot is certainly well on her way!

The book releases on 2/21/2017!  The Education of Margot Sanchez <- click to preorder.

Disclosure: I received a free ARC from the publisher for review consideration.

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The Education of Margot Sanchez


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54 thoughts on “[Review] The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

  1. This looks awesome and post-Trump I also had to take a break from contemporary literary fiction.

    I would love to see some short or longer fiction that focuses on gente-fication. Any suggestions or links?

  2. Fantastic review as always. I really like how you describe how italicized words in languages other than English make you feel. I know it’s been a topic here and there but I am happy to hear when more publishers (I am assuming they may have final same with formatting?) choose not to italicize.

    I also love hearing that the story centers around family. In my experience family is not something that is valued in “western” “american” culture because individualization is much more important. And I have seen this view really marginalize people of color where family can be a huge source of culture, strength, love, and support. I can almost see that very struggle in your review – how Margot wants to impress her new friends and how that may separate her from her family and family values.

    This is definitely on my TBR! Thank you for the review 🙂

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful review, Brendon! You’ve definitely found an important point the novel tries to make – that in her attempts to please her new friends at the new school (who are all white), she is distancing herself from her family and the support they provide each other. Margot’s family isn’t perfect, however. We’ll the their relationships tested, but ultimately grow stronger because of it. Loved the family aspect of this novel!

  3. I like the idea of a YA book dealing with gentrification in a modern context. I may have to look into this one when it’s released. You are going to get tired of me saying this, but another great review!

  4. This sounds great. Reg: italicizing – I find it quite irritating when not just the words are italicized but even defined and explained in a couple of sentences. Feels like I am reading a dictionary. I find it soo… weird, I know that there can be occasions when it is needed but sometimes the context is enough to understand what the words mean, I don’t need explicit definitions that just break the flow of the story.

  5. This sounds like an amazing book, and definitely one I am going to be adding to my to-read list immediately. If it managed to pull you from your post-Trump slump then it’s sure to be a great read, plus I need to add some more diverse books onto my to-read list.
    I already love the premise of this book, and I also love what you said about family playing a large role in this story. I do agree with you that in a lot of YA books (and I haven’t actually noticed it in YA contemporary much, more in fantasy books) family tends to be pushed to one side so it’s always great seeing strong family relationships in YA books, sometimes more than romantic relationships. 🙂

      1. Well that’s good because I still love romance subplots in books, but it’s nice to see the family dynamic being the main part of the story.
        I definitely do, hopefully I’ll be able to get around to this one at the beginning of 2017! 😀

  6. Glad that you enjoyed the read. I like stories that have family dynamics. However unlike you I prefer the other language to be in italics when a book uses two languages. That way my mind can tune itself to skip the italics and read what I understand

    1. Yeah I found myself doing this with the Mandarin in The Wangs vs. The World to be honest….it’s always tough to write a bilingual, codeswitching book for both bilingual readers but also keeping in mind readers who may not know the second/other language.

    2. I can definitely understand that. Spanish that is not italicized would definitely be most appreciated by Spanish speakers. But I don’t think it would detract anything at all for non-Spanish speakers if the Spanish isn’t italicized. I’m curious to see what other reviewers say.

  7. I find it really interesting Spanish isn’t italicized – which I actually really like, because while I don’t understand Spanish myself and it will be helpful to distinguish what is English and what is not, I do agree that it seems to be more of a interruption. Like HEY, HERE’S A FOREIGN WORD. LOOK IT UP. Italicized words are typically used for emphasis – I don’t think it’s entirely normal to emphasize every word that isn’t Spanish. It would be a really conversation to have, honestly.

    Lovely review, Naz! ^_^

    1. I found the lack of italics done well in this book because the characters shift from English to Spanish seamlessly, which is something I tend to do around other Spanish-speakers. The lack of italics to me means that both of these languages are natural to the characters, not foreign languages. I’m curious to see what non-Spanish speakers will think!

  8. I can’t wait to read this! Super-excited that the Spanish words aren’t italicised either – it always seems to me that it creates a divide between English and the native language that characters (or their parents) speak. I’m already seeing so many amazing reviews for 2017 books 🙂

    1. For the characters of this book it makes perfect sense that the Spanish isn’t italicized!
      Hope you keep this book on your radar. I thought it was really good and hope other people take notice and buy it. I want it to do well commercially!

  9. You sure know how to make someone want to read a book!
    The first thing that caught my attention was your mention of the fact that the protagonist leads a privileged life. I was just talking to a friend yesterday about how to raise privileged children in a way that will eventually lead them to understand their good fortune in life without feeling ‘entitled’ to it. This sounds like a good book to put into their hands at some point – a message that doesn’t feel like a message.
    And I’m so glad I read this review because of your explanation about the use of italics. I’ve never thought about this before, but now it seems so clear that of course it would make the other language being used feel like ‘other’. Thanks for pointing it out – I’ll be noticing it from now on and feeling annoyed on your behalf! 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Naomi! Many readers appreciate the use of italics because they can gloss over the foreign language phrases and move on to the English text. But I really don’t think removing the italics will affect the reading experience much at all! In Margot Sanchez, people should be able to easily understand the context and not miss anything in the book. Where as Spanish speakers will be able to enjoy the book without feeling that their language is other. It makes perfect sense when the characters in the book code-switch between languages naturally. We don’t code switch in italics!

  10. I usually read horror, and it is very hard to find diverse books in this particular genre. However this book sounds very interesting! Especially the part with Spanish/ English conversation. It makes the characters real and human.

  11. Great review Naz 🙂 I am not sure of my thoughts about a foreign language being italicized or not, but I guess it would depend on my knowledge of the language. For example, in the book of esther by Emily barton, many people gave it bad reviews because they had no knowledge of Judaism, while I enjoyed it because I had knowledge of Judaism. In another book I read a long time ago, the author included Korean words that I didn’t know and didn’t really provide context for their meaning, which meant I didn’t enjoy the story. I also think I have so grown used to seeing foreign language italicized that I don’t pay attention to it.

    1. It makes sense that people who are more familiar with certain topics or ideas will be more likely to enjoy a book. The italicizing of foreign languages in English-language books will certainly have a variety of opinions. But in the case of this book, the lack of italics doesn’t really detract anything for the reading experience. It’s just a positive for Spanish speakers!

  12. I’m loving that so many more books with code-switching are being published. True to life, always. I’m also glad this book was good campany in rough times.

  13. I seriously thought I had commented when I liked your amazing review!!! I was waiting to read your thoughts on Margot & I’m so happy that it was a positive experience & representation. I agree Naz, italicizations of the Spanish language does take away from the natural flow since you do find yourself pausing. I’m glad Rivera chose to incorporate the Spanish language as a regular part of the text. I also agree that gentrification & its affects would’ve been interesting to explore further. Your reviews are always on point! I have a eGalley of Margot & can’t wait to check out Lilliam’s writing 💕

    1. Thank you for reading! I’m having a hard time blog hopping during the holiday break, but will get on it as soon as I get the chance. 🙂
      Yes, I loved this book and glad you liked my review. <3 It was an impressive debut by Lilliam Rivera and am eager to read her next book, which she's apparently working on right now!
      I do think the book had positive rep. Margot and her family aren't presented as perfect or anything, because they're not. They're a regular family with problems, but they work through them to eventually get closer. Loved the family aspect of this book.

  14. Hahahaha, I got so excited to read this and then was crushed to discover it doesn’t come out for another couple of months. Sob! I feel like there’s so much amazing YA coming out in 2017 — oodles of books by a diverse crop of authors and so much #ownvoices stuff I want to hug it all to my chest and spin around in happy circles. As shitty as the world is in so many ways (especially right now), I am grateful that we have such wonderful books to read.

    1. 2017 is going to be a wonderful year for books! It may be even better than 2016, which I thought was fantastic in terms of the amount of quality books for all readers that were released.
      I’ll be sure to remind people of the book’s release when the time comes. Thanks for reading 🙂

  15. Wonderful review, Naz! Was hoping you’d review this one soon, though now have to wait till it’s published 😁 Love the codeswitching and lack of italics, honestly we non Spanish speakers will be fine w a bit of thinking and googling. Also it’s great to read about Margot as a privileged girl and her learning curve.

  16. This book looks amazing! I’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for it. I hadn’t considered the italicized problem in that way before- I can see how it might be demeaning, though. Would this book still be readable for someone (like me) who does not speak/read//understand Spanish? As in, does the context make it self-explanatory?
    -Amy

    1. I was wondering the same thing, because I actually prefer authors not tell readers what the sentences not in English mean. It seems clumsy and awkward when authors explain because why would dual-language speakers explain what they said? I feel like it gives me the opportunity to ask someone who does speak Spanish (or in the case of an Irvine Welsh book, what the Scottish slang means) and get closer to someone with different talents than me.

          1. Ah! You can ask on Twitter, too, of course! Honestly, I’ve only met one person who told me nastily told me to “go Google it” when I asked her a question. She later apologized and said she had been having a bad day.

    2. Yes, anyone should be able to read and enjoy the book! There are only some phrases and short sentences in Spanish. It’s not like there are whole paragraphs in Spanish! haha, so there’s nothing to worry about. You may miss a few very minor things, but it shouldn’t impair your enjoyment of the book. 🙂

  17. Fantastic review as per usual Naz!

    “Some people may not care at all whether non-English words in a book written predominantly in English are italicized, but to me it means everything. The subtle break/hesitation that is prevented by not using italics shows that Spanish is not foreign or “other.” In books where the characters are native speakers or bilingual, there’s no reason to italicize because both languages are an intrinsic part of us. I hope more books follow suit.”

    I have never even thought about this but now that you’ve brought it to my attention, italics do give the words a sense of “otherness.” Naz, I love how you give me so many new things to think about.

    This one has been on my radar ever since seeing that fierce looking cover! Adding it to the ol’ TBR!

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