What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Pérez was not an easy read. There were parts that broke my heart. Seventeen-year old Marisa is the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in Houston. This is a novel of figuring out how to balance the expectations that others have for you against the expectations and hopes that you have for yourself. This was definitely a windows book for me. I grew up in an environment that prioritized education. I now teach in an environment that, while incredibly diverse, is also incredibly privileged. Marisa has choices to make that are outside of any of my experiences. Even now as an adult I know that I would struggle if I was put in her position.
It important that I see girls like Marisa in YA because it reminds me that my experience isn’t the only one. And it is even important for someone who is living a life like Marisa to read this because we all need to see ourselves reflected in order to truly understand who we are. We all need mirrors. I really liked Marisa. She is smart, hard wording, loyal, and more than a little rough around the edges. I was pulling for her. I think that she would be a positive reflection.
Marisa has a lot of pressure put on her from her family. To them loyalty, staying together, and supporting one another are the most important things in life. Her interest in school and desire to become an engineer puzzled and frustrated them. “How can you spend time studying/go away to college when we need your help here.” So Marisa gives them money from her after school job, watches her niece, studies for her calculus class, all the while she tries to have something left over for herself.
Let’s take a moment here to hear it for the girls of math. So often in YA math (if it is even acknowledged) is the bogyman that will take down our plucky heroine when least expected. Or it is something that comes so effortlessly to her that she never has to study. Marisa has to study calculus in order to learn it (this is a step that is often forgotten). She has to work hard. Sometimes she has to prioritize.
Ms. Ford reminded me of why I became a teacher. She has incredibly high expectations for Marisa but she is also compassionate. She isn’t a miracle worker. She can’t change Marisa’s life. But she gives her the support that she can. Marisa doesn’t make magical progress. It is uneven. Sometimes she loses hope or focus. Sometimes she reevaluates what is important to her. Sometimes, she has to compromise.
This is realistic fiction at its best. I like that her friends and family have lives outside of her. I like that even when I was angry at her family I feel as if I have met Marisa. Like she is a real person who lives in Texas that I know and that I am Facebook friends with. Actually, I would really like to be Facebook friends with her because I REALLY want life updates from her. I want to know how things turn out. I want to know that she is okay. I may be more invested in her than is healthy. Don’t judge.
Ultimately, this book left me with a feeling of hope. Read it. You definitely won’t regret it.
Marissa has smarts and plenty of promise, but she's marooned in a broken-down Houston neighborhood--and in a Mexican immigrant family where making ends meet matters much more than making it to college. When her home life becomes unbearable, Marissa seeks comfort elsewhere--and suddenly neither her best friend or boyfriend can get through to her.
What Can't Wait tells the story of one girl's survival in a world in which family trumps individual success and independence, and self-reliance the only key that can unlock the door to the future.