Today's not-a-review is for Ashley Hope Pérez's debut novel, What Can(t) Wait.
"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. An ordinary life--marrying a neighborhood guy, working, having babies--ought to be good enough for her. Marisa hears something else from her calc teacher. She should study harder, ace the AP test, and get into engineering school in Austin. Some days, it all seems possible. On others, she's not even sure what she wants. When her life at home 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. But some things just can't wait...
• • •
My parents both earned their G.E.D.s, but neither of them graduated from high school.
I'm a first-generation college graduate.
When I took my first run at university, I buckled and washed out. When I look back at myself, that outcome was inevitable. Financial Aid looked like Welfare to me. A person could take 18 credits for the same price as 12, so that's what I took. My minimum-wage job started at 5:30 am. My Calc class was in a west-facing room in the afternoon. You do the math.
Eventually, I fought my way back to school. I learned to negotiate the system. I learned that there was no stigma attached to financial aid. I still took 18 credits a term, but work-study jobs made my schedule less daunting. I took my three-year old with me to night classes. She helped me study art history. I graduated.
Despite my rocky start, I became a teacher at a university. I ended up teaching people who were the first in their family to go to "school." Some of them were single parents who had to bring their kids to class when the baby sitter didn't show. Others were SOTAs—Students Over Traditional Age—who were juggling families, jobs, aging parents, and dead-end jobs.
What Can(t) Wait is a book those students would have appreciated. They would have loved Marisa. They would have understood the love she lavishes on her little niece, even though childcare eats the time she should spend studying. Those students were always struggling with the everyday math of not enough money and not enough time. They would have understood the hard choices Marisa faces—choices that pit the present against the future.
I'm not a book reviewer, but I felt compelled to share this with you: What Can(t) Wait rings true. It doesn't soften the sharp edges of economic reality, it brings them into focus through the lens of Marisa's life. It is very worthy of the time you will spend reading it.
Visit ashelyperez.com for additional information—including proper reviews.
What Can(t) Wait is a Carolrhoda Lab book. Ashley generously provided me with an ARC.