The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera features the title character’s plight to fit in with new friends, while reconciling where she comes from and who she is, with where she wants to go and who she wants to become. Set in New York, the story begins with a Puerto Rican teenaged girl working at one of her family’s two Sanchez & Sons grocery stores. The summer job is actually her penance for Margot’s poor decision-making while on her quest to gain the approval of her aspirational friend group.
Coming from what others would see as an upper-middle-class family, Margot struggles to curry favor with the financially superior popular crowd at an elite private school. She worries about how she looks, how she sounds, and what she says, all while re-examining her former best friend and constructing optics-based goals that she’s committing herself to accomplishing. As aspects of her upbringing are revealed, it becomes clear that her obsession with image and her focus on social climbing are lessons she learned at home from parents who valued keeping up appearances.
Although school is out of session, Margot learns a lot while she hustles at the store to repay what she owes her parents. While she inches closer to her end-of-summer reward – being able to attend “the” party of the summer where she will see the guy she has been pining after – Margot begins to examine herself more critically, although not without some additional missteps.
Readers may find Margot’s circumstances relatable, especially if they have had to re-invent themselves. Like many who have had to move between schools or change cities, she struggles with how and whether her past fits in with her present and future.
Margot is gifted at spinning facts for any given situation, just like her mother is at maintaining a beautiful home for the neighbors to admire. Eventually, however, a harsher reality is exposed, and the veneer that has been applied to keep things appearing glossy eventually gives way.
Lilliam Rivera covers some tough themes in this work centered on identity and values. She makes Margot’s character very articulate and intelligent, at times sounding more like a college freshman than an early high schooler. She incorporates the Spanish language into her prose, which is a plus, but at times she uses purely colloquial terms that could benefit from a glossary or footnotes to aid the reader to better grasp its meaning.
The novel is well written and contains good, believable dialogue between characters. It leaves room for some interpretation and extrapolation, instead of neatly tying everything up into a perfect bow. In that sense, a sequel could easily be made to see what lessons Margot has learned and how she further develops.
The presence of drugs, sex, and profanity is somewhat tempered, so the novel seems appropriate for readers no younger than that of the typical eighth grader. A good companion piece to this novel would be The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos, which is probably more suited for upper high school readers. Having just read both works, I could see how juxtaposing the settings and characters could yield meaningful discussion and analysis.
Written by Lilliam Rivera
2017, Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 304
The Honorable Luis Maldonado graduated from Stetson University, magna cum laude, with a degree in English, and the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, cum laude. Since 2004 he has worked in the nonprofit and public sectors, having served as an advocate for domestic violence victims and foster children, as well as counsel for the State of Florida in dependency hearings. He began his federal government service in 2006; during that time he has handled administrative trial and appellate matters, federal litigation, and served in advisory and management roles. He was appointed to the bench in 2020 and serves as an Immigration Judge in Memphis, Tennessee. Judge Maldonado is a member of Stetson University’s Board of Trustees.