by Shana Scudder
July 12, 2022
Shana Scudder is a writer, editor, and teacher based in Raleigh, NC. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Randolph College and teaches First Year Writing at North Carolina State University.
Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez; Penguin Publishing Group; 256 pages; $27.00
Erika L. Sánchez’s memoir Crying in the Bathroom will leave the reader with tears of laughter, sadness, and relatability, often within the same sentence. Sánchez lays out her purpose for writing this book in the Introduction when she states that when growing up, she “rarely found portrayals of anyone like me” and that her “teachers didn’t often teach books by people of color.” continuing that “no template existed” so she “made it up.” There is no guesswork here: Sánchez tells the reader up front that this is a story of resilience, and how crucial this is for people of color: “For us, resilience is more than a noble trait; it’s a lifestyle that oppression has demanded of us. Either we adapt or we die.” The conclusion of her memoir will corroborate the claims she makes in the introduction that, “I am myself in a world that encourages me to be otherwise, a world that doesn’t love me, wasn’t built for me.” In this way, her memoir succeeds in its purpose of empowering and speaking to young women of color who may not have access to role models like Sánchez, nor texts that speak to their experience.
Crying in the Bathroom begins as a collection of topical essays that thread together and fully coalesce by the end of the book, making the structure somewhat unique, as many if not all of the chapters could serve as standalone essays. The beginning of the memoir focuses on topics such as women’s health, racism, and the uses of humor in communities of color, but the fourth chapter, “La Mala Vida,” begins a deep dive into Sánchez’s battle with depression and how that has affected her life as an artist (not to mention as a human). This struggle becomes a persistent theme throughout the rest of the book and creates cohesion from what seemed to be an essay-collection structure in the beginning.
The groundwork for the mental health theme is laid in the third chapter “Back to the Motherland.” So much of this essay is about being a writer and an artist: “I found inspiration at every turn, and there were times I could hardly stand it.” Sánchez takes the reader into her creative process and how inextricably linked it is with experiencing life fully: “Sometimes I have an idea come to me as I’m performing a mundane task and I have to stop what I’m doing to write it down.” However, Sánchez illuminates that “The world is not built for people with this kind of temperament,” which sets up her journey with mental health that the next chapter really begins to dig into.
Chapter 4 begins an explicit walkthrough of Sánchez’s harrowing journey with clinical depression. She finally found relief after undergoing a series of electroshock treatments, and through describing this process she breaks down stereotypes of both what mental illness looks like and the forms of treatment such as ECT that have a storied mythology in popular culture. The chapter “Difficult Sun” is essentially the climax of her journey where she undergoes an abortion and becomes desperately suicidal before finally receiving appropriate treatment. As with everything in this memoir, however, this too comes full-circle in the final chapter where she gives birth to her daughter and articulates why it was so crucial for her to give birth at the right time, when it was fully her choice.
Even though each chapter could serve as a standalone essay, the impact of the final chapter/essay is far greater after reading the entire memoir. Not only does it offer a happy ending and a message of hope, it is also a clear, personalized statement for why access to safe abortions is so crucial for any woman, a message that is particularly timely given the current dismantling of Roe v. Wade.
Sánchez’s stated purpose also comes full-circle in this final chapter entitled “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Mom” which is an allusion to her bestselling YA novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. This chapter provides a triumphant ending and a clear message to her audience that happiness is possible for those the world tells it shouldn’t be. Sánchez writes, “When you grow up Brown and poor, you feel like nothing belongs to you” and then she goes on to describe her life today: “This is the safest I’ve ever felt”; “This is the place I’ve been looking for my entire life”; “I’m married to a thicc king who loves it when I make art”; “I teach and I write and I travel”; “I go where I please.” When Sánchez did not see her own life reflected in the pages of any books, she created her own so that her audience could finally see themselves reflected in a tale that is truly one of victory and resilience.
Resilience as a Lifestyle: A Review of Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez
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