January 18, 2011
Reader Gut Reaction: After a few blinks of watery eyes, some sad chuckles, and some wincing, my gut reaction? Oh, man, this is my life. Well -- that is to say, this is my life if I were Latina and still in high school.
Marisa is seventeen, and an excellent student. She works as many hours as she can weekends and after school at Kroger's, and does her best to help her sister with her five-year-old daughter, Anita. She cooks for her brother and father in the mornings, since her mother doesn't get home from work until 11 p.m. She cooks dinner for them, too. She gives her father half her paycheck, like clockwork.
Family is supposed to support family. That's how things go.
Oddly enough, her brother is not held to that rule.
Marisa suffers from parental indifference to her grades, from friends and siblings who don't understand her drive, and from a well-meaning teacher who wants to encourage and push her, but who doesn't understand the very real barriers in her life to success. Anyone who is raised in a household that doesn't really value education -- where a mother's sigh of "Another day finished, gracias a Dios," is a daily occurrence, where a shouted threat from a parent is, "You think you're too good to help out? You think you're going to college? You'd better get a JOB!" -- these are the people who will totally get this book and think, "this is my life..."
Concerning Character: Marisa is very, very real. She makes mistakes. She feels sorry for herself, and whines, and then eventually realizes she should suck it up. She holds things in and doesn't talk about her situation with her pushy teacher, because hey - her life is nobody's business but her own. She cannot force herself to act when she knows she's being steamrolled. When she needs help, she cannot find it within herself to ask. What I loved about this novel is that there is CHARACTER EVOLUTION. She learns -- oh, there's blood, sweat and tears involved, but the character changes from someone determined to do it all -- because no one else can do it -- to someone who learns to accept help, learns to say, "I'm sorry, this is what happened," learns to walk away from a father who is frozen inside and too threatened by her brain to be able to see her as someone he can love. She makes some pretty mature and wrenching decisions for her life, too.
I'm a little in love with her boyfriend, Alan. He's not perfect, but their relationship is realistic, and those who like a little romance with their reality will sigh, Awwww! and swoon because he draws for her. (Sucker for artwork, right here.)
Recommended for Fans Of...: Sparrow, by Sherri L. Smith, Like Sisters on the Homefront, by Rita Williams-Garcia, Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and other books where teens are forced into self-sufficiency, and learn how to deal.
Authorial Asides: The author of this novel is a teacher - which means that somewhere out there someone who actually knows what life is like is teaching kids and having compassion for them -- while still pushing them to open the doors which will secure their futures. Oh, that makes me happy. Also what makes me happy is that Ashley Pérez was recommended to us by Andrew Karre, editorial director for Carolrhoda books and Darby Creek, and a good friend of the YA/kidlitosphere. Thanks, Andrew.
I hope this book gets into the hands of tons of young adults who are striving to be the first in their families to finish high school without a child, or to finish at all, and go on to college. I hope they think, "...this is my life... and I can GET OUT, TOO."
Hi, FCC! This novel was sent to me via NetGalley, and this review is based on the uncorrected .pdf galley of the book I received.
On March 1, 2010 (or probably at online booksellers right now) you'll find WHAT CAN'T WAIT at an independent bookstore near you!