When How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was published in 1991, the book "made a resounding splash on the literary scene" according to Jonathan Bing in the 1996 Publishers Weekly review of the novel. Although it was her first novel, Alvarez gained significant attention for the book, including a part in the New York Public Library's 1991 exhibit "The Hand of the Poet from John Donne to Julia Alvarez". The Women's Review of Books also lauds the author, stating that "With this first novel, Julia Alvarez joins the rank of other Latina writers such as Nicholasa Mohr and Helena María Viramontes".
The novel was generally critically acclaimed, with Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés of The Women's Review of Books writing that "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a noteworthy book, demanding our attention." The Publishers Weekly article notes that "the novel provided a keen look at the island social structure they [the García family] wistfully remember and the political turmoil they escaped".
Since 1991, the book has become widely read and referenced; a well-known part of the canon of Latino literature. Julia Alvarez was awarded the status of Doctor Honoris Causa, Humanidades, by Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, Santiago, Dominican Republic on January 24, 2006 for How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.
In 1999, Library Journal reported that a "select cadre of librarians representing New York City's three public library systems have released their hand-picked list of '21 new classics for the 21st century'" and the novel was included on the list.
A number of scholarly articles and papers have been written on Alvarez's book since its publication, including "A Search for Identity in Julia Alvarez's How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" by William Luis and Joan Hoffman's "She Wants to be Called Yolanda Now: Identity, Language, and the Third Sister in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents", which was featured in the Bilingual Review.