What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez 2011
Carolrhoda Lab/ Lerner Publishing Group
IQ "I can feel Mrs. Ford starting at me. It gives me that shitty feeling you get when somebody thinks they know everything about you, but you know they've got it all wrong. She's thinking my life could be simple if I would just follow some stupid goal-planning worksheet and come to tutorials. She's thinking, 'These Mexican girls, why won't they take their futures seriously?'" Marisa pg. 63 (and I'm thinking Mrs. Ford you don't know what you're talking about!!! *Ahem* More on that later)
Marisa is seventeen and stuck between familia y educacion. Her parents came from Mexico to Houston, they work long days and expect Marisa to help out the family. Which she does; Marisa babysits her sister Cecilia's daughter (Anita), works at Kroger (a grocery store) and gives her family half her wages and she gets good grades. Except her parents don't see how getting good grades help the family. In fact, both her parents want her to focus less on school and more on the family. Her mother wants her to get married and give her grandchildren. Her father wants her to become the assistant manager of the local Kroger. On the other hand, Mrs. Ford, Marisa's calculus teacher wants Marisa to take the AP calc exam (and naturally get a 5) and apply to UT-Austin (the University of Texas at Austin) which has a stellar engineering program. Austin is about two hours away from Houston and Marisa knows her father won't let her be that far from the family and she's not even sure if she could abandon her family to go to college (and hey does she even really want to be an engineer?). Marisa doesn't know what she wants, she has a duty to her family, but she also has a duty to herself.
I don't know about anyone else, but this book made me feel like one of the laziest high school students in the history of the world. Marisa wakes up at five to do homework, then she makes breakfast for her father (and the rest of the family), heads to school and then goes to work. Later on she does whatever else is needed. This repeats, giving her little time to do homework in the evening. It also made me realize that I need to shut up about college because I have far more options than Marisa does and my parents actually support my going to college (I don't even think not going is an option). These simple facts wouldn't get throw my thick head until I read this book. I've got it good and I better recognize (well if I keep speaking like that I may not get into college ;p). Anyway, I think the only issue I would have with this book is that the plot is rather simple. Well at least it seems to be on the surface. But in reality Marisa has to make one of the toughest (well toughest for a contemporary novel, who knows what fantasy heroines/heroes have to do) decisions that many of us will not have to make. I suppose there could have been a few more storylines, but I was overall satisfied with the one main plot and the secondary romantic plot. Alan was rather perfect. At first. But then he starts making some boneheaded moves but it's not all bad because he thinks he's helping Marisa out. I was worried that Alan would perfect throughout the entirety of the story but he's a bit selfish (in the best of ways). He wants Marisa to go to college, but he wants her to stay in Houston and be with him. *SPOILER* And when he goes to Marisa's mother telling her he'll marry Marisa? Slightly creepy but his heart was in the right place. But I would have reacted the exact same way Marisa did. 'Um WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?' (loose loose interpretation). * END SPOILER. Plus Marisa and Alan have communication issues so their relationship is not perfect and it's not love-at-first sight. They've been friends since freshman year but neither one of them works up the courage to ask each other out until senior year. They then proceed to have a complicated relationship (and yes it's mostly Marisa who makes it so complicated).
How do you choose between your duty to yourself and your duty to your family (hmm I wonder what Kant would have to say about this. We are currently studying him, how timely!)? I read this book in a state of incredulity, I just couldn't fathom a family not wanting their child to go to college. I can understand when parents want their teen to pick a more affordable college, but to not want their child to go at all? Unfathomable and it near broke my heart. What's even worse is that at first, Ms. Ford doesn't understand why Marisa can't dare to dream of going to UT. She does think Marisa isn't as dedicated to her schoolwork, and like Marisa, you just want to shake her and say 'she's trying as hard as she can but she can't do it all!' I got so swept up in this book, I was actually talking to Ms. Ford. I know I'm crazy. While initially Marisa's story may not seem universal it is, the stress of applying for college is just tenfold for Marisa but we can all relate to being under immense pressure from our families (it may not be grades or getting a big-paying job but it could also be the arts, sports, etc). In addition, the secondary characters are all developed. Besides Alan, Marisa's best friend, Brenda was a well-rounded character and she made this story more universal. Marisa doesn't want to leave Alan behind and she certainly doesn't want to leave her best friend Brenda behind either. Brenda is going to junior college in Houston. We all have to deal with leaving behind our high school friends since we can't take them all with us ;)
What Can't Wait is a patient book with a strong cast of characters that tells a gripping tale, one with quiet intensity. There's a sense of urgency as the reader waits for Marisa to reach her breaking point because the reader just knows that she can only handle so much. Her mother appreciates her sacrifices but she still doesn't want to reward Marisa by encouraging her college dream. Her father wants Marisa to be submissive and continue to work hard. This story also holds an important lesson for teachers, I think. Perhaps instead of just assuming that they know a student's situation, they should ask questions and be willing to listen. Just don't assume. Please? I also think that today most teachers don't give up on their students, but just remember even when the student seems to give up, don't give up on him or her. This book has a little bit of everything and it truly is a universal story that is more poignant because of Marisa's Mexican heritage. The ending does not leave things peachy keen, but it's not all doom and gloom. It's an authentic mix of hope tempered with realism. This story grabbed hold of my emotions (I was definitely holding my breath as I waited for Marisa's decision) and I can't wait to see what this author writes next ;D Oh and I want an Alan.
Disclosure: Received from Lerner Publishing Group. Mil gracias!
PS Read my interview with the author
PPSS I did find it odd that Marisa calls Ms. Ford 'miss.' Do teens really do that these days?