Author: Ashley Hope Pérez
Publication Date: 3/28/11
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
"Another day finished, gracias a Dios."
Seventeen-year-old Marisa's mother has been saying this for as long as Marisa can remember. Her parents came to Houston from Mexico. They work hard, and they expect Marisa to help her familia. And they expect her to marry a boy from the neighborhood, to settle down, and to have grandbabies. If she wants a job, she could always be an assistant manager at the local grocery store.
At school, it's another story. Marisa's calc teacher expects her to ace the AP test and to get into an engineering program in Austin—a city that seems unimaginably far away. When her home life becomes unbearable, Marisa seeks comfort elsewhere—and suddenly neither her best friend nor boyfriend can get through to her. Caught between the expectations of two different worlds, Marisa isn't sure what she wants—other than a life where she doesn't end each day thanking God it's over.
What Can't Wait—the gripping debut novel from Ashley Hope Pérez—tells the story of one girl's survival in a world in which family needs trump individual success, and self-reliance the only key that can unlock the door to the future.
When I saw that this book was not only about the Mexican-American experience but that it also included a teenage girl who excelled in math, I couldn’t wait to read it. (the Mexican experience aspect because I find it fascinating and the math thing to stick it to my 5th grade science teacher who told my mom that it was no big deal that I sucked at circuitry because I was a girl and would obviously never need to know anything about it) The only other YA books that I’ve read involving Mexican teenagers are Simone Elkeles’s Fuentes brothers books, and those are firmly anchored by their romantic plotlines. While I enjoyed those books, I’m happy to say that What Can’t Wait is not carried by Marisa’s romantic life. Instead, we follow Marisa Moreno through her senior year of high school. No one in her family has ever gone to college but Marisa and several people who surround her believe that she has what it takes to achieve something more. Her attempts are thwarted left and right but she doesn't give in. I have to say, I always find it refreshing when a teenage protagonist is a hard worker and grounded in reality. So many YA books are based around trivialities but this one deals with several more serious issues. Yes, I remember how ridiculous many of my teenage concerns were and recognize that these books of which I speak are probably very true to actual teenage concerns and life. I guess I just like things a little more gritty. The tone of this novel is realistic, a little on the dark side, but decidedly optimistic. And the pacing is quick yet steady; I never felt like the story was rushed or that there was lag.
This book gives of a Dairy Queen series vibe, and we all know what a good thing that is. The family situation is quite similar as well—a teenage girl who has to work hard for her family to the detriment of her schoolwork, her friendships, her love life, and her future, a dad who just doesn’t get it, a mother who seems like a pushover in many cases, and siblings who often compound family stress. There isn't much in the way of descriptive writing going on but I truly didn't mind--Ashley Hope Pérez wrote a book that feels like we are reading Marisa's journal of her entire year. (perhaps that is another reason I kept thinking of DJ Schwenk?)
I checked out the publisher of this novel because I had never encountered them before and I thought perhaps Carolrhoda was a word in a different language—as it turns out, the origin of the imprint name is quite a touching story. The head of Lerner Publishing Group, Carolrhoda Press’ parent company, named the imprint after his wife’s lifelong best friend who died too young of breast cancer. She was in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia and worked to bring more books to children worldwide. Carolrhoda Lab, an offshoot of Carolrhoda Press, is a smaller imprint dedicated to publishing , “distinctive, provocative, boundary-pushing fiction for teens and their sympathizers.” (I chuckled at the teen sympathizers line—I suppose I don’t mind being labeled as such) After reading this work, I am certainly going to see what else this imprint has to offer.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read this one!