Book review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

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Margot was thrilled when her parents enrolled her in Somerset Prep, an elite upper-class high school.  All she wanted was to fall in with the right crowd, and after changing nearly everything about herself, she befriended the popular and wealthy Serena and Camille.  But keeping up with Serena and Camille proved difficult, and Margot resorted to stealing her father’s credit card so that she could continue to look the part.

This was supposed to be Margot’s summer.  She’d planned to spend it in the Hamptons with her new friends, chatting up cute guys and working on her tan.  But when her father finds out about the credit card, he sentences her to a summer of free labor in his supermarket, where Margot meets a cute community activist with a troubled past.  Moises wouldn’t fit in with the image Margot has so carefully cultivated at Somerset, but she feels a true connection with him.  Can she reconcile the two halves of her life?

I read this book solely for my 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  I’d fallen pretty far behind in my goal of 12 debuts this year, so I went through Overdrive and checked every currently available debut I could find.  This is my favorite of the bunch so far.

I was immediately struck by how unlikable Margot is.  She is the very definition of an unsympathetic heroine, and Rivera does an amazing job of making her feel real.  Margot is infuriating.  She’s shallow and spoiled and petty.  She thinks that she deserves the world simply by virtue of existing.  Her nickname is “Princesa,” for goodness’ sake!  But despite all of this, I did not hate her.  She felt like a real teenage girl.  This is how you do an unsympathetic heroine right.

I really liked how Margot grew as a person, both as a result of her interactions with Moises and just as a natural part of getting older.  I could feel her frustration with keeping up her different personas and was rooting for her to just be herself.  I could’ve done with a bit more of it, but let’s be honest.  This girl is still in high school.  The growth she went through over the course of the ten weeks of this book is pretty great.

The issues that Lilliam Rivera deals with in this book are also pretty heavy for YA.  She doesn’t shy away from conversations about race, drug use, gentrification, classism, sexism, or extramarital affairs.  These all feel like natural pieces of the plot and are never preachy or out of place.  Kudos to Rivera for weaving all of these themes together pretty seamlessly.

As for negatives, there are two main conflicts in this book.  The first is that someone is stealing from the family’s supermarket.  The second is some drama with one of the cashiers and a mystery man.  I had quickly figured out the identity of both the thief and the mystery man, so the dramatic reveals seemed a little anticlimactic to me.

I would have also liked a chapter or two of Margot back at Somerset to get a sense of whether what she learned over the summer stuck with her.  Was she able to stand up to Serena and Camille?  What ever happened with her and Nick after that night on the beach?  Did she ever get to join the fashion club like she so wanted to do?  The ending with Margot and Moises was fairly open-ended, and I was fine with that, but I would have liked just a bit more resolution of some of the other plot threads.

Overall, this was a strong debut, and I have no doubt that Rivera is going places.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆