Confronting Class and Race in The Education of Margot Sanchez

In the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, Margot was looking forward to carefree days in the Hamptons with her new private-school friends Serena and Camille. But their pressure to look the upper class part led her to charge $600 on her father’s credit card and now she has to work at the family’s supermarket chain in the Bronx to pay back the debt. Margot’s parents want her to appreciate how hard they’ve worked, coming from Puerto Rico and now living in the upper middle class enclave of Riverdale. Margot resents their rules on whom she can and cannot befriend, and the sexism that allows her older brother to get away with so much more while still inheriting the family business.

Margot’s summer of quiet rebellion leads her into the arms of Moises, a former drug user turned community organizer, but she cannot show her true self to him, any more than she can show it to Serena, Camille, and blond heartthrob Nick, who she dreams of seeing at the end of the summer – if her parents let her off for good behavior. Under the surface, though, the entire Sanchez façade is beginning to crack, as a cashier training Margot turns up pregnant, Junior loses weight and has mood swings, and Mom cleans house through it all.

Lilliam Rivera’s debut novel is funny and wise. It places the reader in the middle of a gentrifying Bronx, seeing the changes from the point of view of a family whose business is threatened by the Trader Joes and Whole Foods that gentrifying residents welcome. Yet the Sanchezes are not innocent, as they look down on the struggling residents of the neighborhoods that their supermarkets serve. Like Renee Watson’s excellent 2015 novel This Side of Home, The Education of Margot Sanchez raises questions about urban space and class for which there are no pat answers. Along with this broader theme is a compelling story about a teenage girl torn caught between the image she is supposed to present and the person she wants to become.

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