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.
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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