Books, Reviews

The Summer of Self Discovery or The Education of Margot Sanchez

The Education of Margot SanchezThe Education of Margot Sanchez, Lilliam Rivera, Simon & Schuster, 2017

Lilliam Rivera
Simon & Schuster
February 21, 2017

Margot Sanchez is a girl torn between two worlds. The first is her home in the South Bronx where she was raised and where her family owns a pair of grocery stores, Sanchez & Sons. The other is the mostly-white, private school she attends called Somerset. Both worlds come with their own sets of rules and expectations, and Margot does her best to try and navigate between them. Her family wants her to do well, to make the right friends, get grades and eventually land a lucrative career, like a doctor or a lawyer. The so-called “right friends” at school want her to dress an appropriate way, to buy the perfect things, and attend the approved parties. It’s no surprise that Margot eventually stumbles and gets caught charging hundreds of dollars on her father’s credit card without permission. So now, instead of spending her summer in the Hamptons with her Somerset friends, she’s being forced to work in her family store and pay back the money she stole.

Margot undergoes a significant amount of self-discovery throughout the summer. She is forced to take the time to really reflect on what she considers priorities, the way she’s changed herself to fit other people’s point of view, and how the choices she’s been making affect those around her. This evolving relationship with herself is well done, but for me, the true strength of this novel was how it explored her relationships with other people. Relationships are complex, no matter how positive or negative they may be, and that is represented here. From her mother, to her father, to her Somerset friends, and her brother and more, The Education of Margot Sanchez looks at the complexities within each one.

Margot’s relationship with her father and brother were particularly noteworthy. It is clear that she loves them and ultimately wants what’s best for her family even if she can be a little selfish at times. At the same time, she often clashes with them in ways many teenagers will be able to relate to. She hates feeling like they’re trying to control her or that they don’t trust her. As the novel progresses, the tensions in those relationships snowball. There are some more serious issues that her family will need to deal with, as well as a fair amount of sexism from the male characters, that Margot sometimes internalizes and sometimes fights back against. I thought this was a really nuanced way to approach the dynamics within the Sanchez family.

There is a bit of a romantic relationship as well in The Education of Margot Sanchez, but I found it to be the least compelling of all of the relationships explored in the book. At the beginning of the summer, Margot crushes on a boy from school named Nick, someone she was supposed to send the summer flirting and partying with in the Hamptons. While working at the supermarket, however, Margot meets a neighbourhood boy, Moises. He has a somewhat checkered past, but now works as a community activist, advocating for residents about to lose their homes to a new condo development and fighting against gentrification. Despite being ordered to stay away, Margot finds herself drawn to him as he opens her eyes to different issues facing the community she grew up in, but is now so eager to leave behind. Their relationship was charming, and I think they would ultimately be good for each other. But there were so many other things for Margot to prioritize, which she thankfully does, and their relationship falls by the wayside.

This is a young adult novel with a strong narrative voice and complex characters. Though it does touch on some more serious issues, like drug use, it never feels heavy or preachy. Which is not to say Rivera doesn’t treat those issues with the respect they deserve; they just aren’t the focus of the novel. Margot is. And Margot Sanchez is a great character to focus on. I really enjoyed this opportunity to get to know her.