Margot Sanchez had her summer in the Hamptons planned out and ready to go- that is before she was busted for ‘borrowing’ her father’s credit card to buy a $600 outfit. Now she needs to pay off everything she owes to her parents, and to do that, she’s working at her father’s deli in the Bronx. Her earnings don’t go into her pocket, but rather directly to her father- she’s basically an indentured servant, and she couldn’t be more distraught. As the ultimate beach party Margot is invited to draws ever closer, Margot’s determined to go, or she might lose her hard-earned social status at her privileged high school. And no way will Margot let that happen. Things are further complicated when a cute local, socially aware boy named Moises comes into her life.
The Education of Margot Sanchez has a lot going for it – a deeply flawed and realistic main character, who is both unlikable yet relatable, a complicated family dynamic that builds up slowly to come to an exploding climax, and fun, fast-paced high school drama that gives the book its larger voice. But while all the elements were there, much of the aspects felt lackluster and incomplete- at least during the first half of the book. Before the book hits the 50% mark, I felt cold towards Margot – not indifferent, but cold. Despite relating to her deep-set need for a place to belong, and her complicated feelings regarding identity (with her community, her family, her socioeconomic status, her culture versus her privileged school and her white, upper-class friends), I disliked how Margot handled the cards dealt to her. Because I’d been in such a similar position for a lot of my life, I found myself a little frustrated with her decisions, which launched my indifference towards her to coolness.
More than that, perhaps, I had very little interest in Margot’s love life. While I appreciated the fleshiness of Moises’s character – he was rather well developed, and immediately likable – I felt there were more important things at hand than a summer crush. There was clear, serious tension between Margot’s family. Her relationship with her father was outwardly amicable but Margot has suspicions from the very start about there being something off. Her relationship with her brother was one-dimensional in the first half, and her mother was mostly a prop. These were all my issues with the first half.
However. The story picked up incredibly quickly as soon as it hit the 50% mark. It seemed like Rivera thought back after she’d written half and realized all the flaws, and decided to kick it up several notches because I could not put the book down after those initial hurdles were passed. Margot, despite remaining someone with flaws, despite being someone who you question, developed into a complicated young woman who’s doing her best to learn and be better. She becomes aware of herself and her vices, and works towards bettering herself, which was something I had hoped would be apparent from the beginning.
The romance was pushed to the side – rightly so, I would say, to make way for the larger themes at hand, such as Margot’s struggle with her identity. It was explored more in the second half, as well as her fraught relationship with her local Bronx friends, and the dynamic between her and her community. Her relationship with her parents and her brother was explored deeply; we got to see her home life, her past relationship with her brother and how he changed. We see them interact more, we see exactly what went wrong and how. This, I felt, was infinitely more important than some of the stuff being explored in the first half, and the new turn the book took definitely did wonders for it.
I had issues with the writing as well; I often felt like I was being fed messages and lessons, rather than being shown them. For example, often a dialogue would take place between Margot and someone else, and it would largely be obvious from the dialogue what is implied, but the next paragraph would explain it to the reader anyway. It felt as if the author doubted the reader’s intelligence to critically and analytically read deeply enough to gather implications without them being outwardly stated- but perhaps that’s just me and my strange personal preferences.
Ultimately, despite all my issues, I did enjoy this book- and it’s an important book at that with a diverse cast of characters, set in an area of New York City often disregarded and overlooked for God knows what reason. It explores the meaning of identity and the struggles of minority youth who are thrust into environments where they are not fully represented or made to feel like they are different or Other. It’s a book I would recommend to contemporary fans, because it’s interesting, it’s nuanced, and it’s very important.