Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Put of Darkness cover

Out of Darkness by  Ashley Hope Pérez
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: No
Release date: September 1st 2015
Rating: I cannot even

 Ashley Hope Pérez is not an easy book.  There is no comfort in it.  It tells the story of Naomi Vargas and weaves it together with the aftermath of the 1937 New London school explosion.

Naomi is a Hispanic girl who moves with her half brother and sister into her stepfather’s home after the death of her mother.  Her transition to New London is not smooth.   She encounters racism on all sides and because she is the only obviously Mexican girl around she becomes very isolated.

The way that Ashley Ashley Hope Pérez writes this historical novel feels very modern.  Naomi feels like a real girl who is out of her elements and unsure about how to handle her life.  It also explored the frustration and isolation that come from not being able or not being allowed to speak your first language. 

The historical detail is very well done.  You really feel the richness of the world without being hit over the head with the authors research.  It is balanced with the overarching big picture tragedy.  There is an authenticity to the way that the characters speak and act.


It is easy to forget how recently our country was segregated and how that segregation was upheld by intense vigilante violence. It is something that I am aware of and yet every time that I read a book on the subject I am again shocked.  There is no sugarcoating of history here.  I like that it is shining a light on a time in history that is usually whitewashed.  America has never been lily white and too often in books we are not shown that. 

The love story was slow to develop and realistic.  It was also terrifying.  I love Naomi and Wash as a couple.  I was hoping that the world would sort of rearrange itself and they would be okay at the same time I was afraid that taking this risk of love was going to lead to disaster.

I found her stepfather’s character to be particularly horrifying and creepy.  And can we take a moment to be properly horrified that he is actually advised at one point by his preacher to marry his stepdaughter because he lusts after he.  Let me remind you that she is fifteen and has in no way indicated that this would be something that she would want.  Also, gross.  Even thinking about it is making me shudder. 

This is a book that makes you feel. It hurt to read.  The aftermath of the disaster will break your heart.  I am going to be thinking about this book for a long time to come.

Book Review: What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Pérez

What can(t) wait cover

What Can't Wait
By Ashley Hope Pérez
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Release date: March 28th 2011

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.

From Goodreads:
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.