Marisa is the good daughter: cooking for her father and brother, babysitting whenever her sister asks, giving half of her paycheck to the family each month.
But Marisa dreams of going to the University of Texas to study engineering, and ber calculus teacher thinks that Marisa is actually smart enough to make it happen.
But her father has all but forbidden her to go to college.
Her mother doesn't want her to leave home.
Her sister needs her to be a full-time babysitter for her niece.
So college can wait. Family can't, right?
What Can't Wait really struck a chord with me. I saw so much of myself in Marisa's calculus teacher. Ms. Ford was constantly pushing Marisa, telling her not to make excuses, emphasizing that college was her "ticket out." But as the reader of Marisa's story, I knew that she was barely keeping it together - that she was bound by duty and loyalty to her family, and most especially to her niece. I actually found myself getting angry at Ms. Ford for not cutting her some slack. Why couldn't she try to understand what Marisa was going through? At the same time, I kept flashing back to conversations that I had with my own students. Pushing, pushing, and pushing them to do their best, to be the best - even when I had no idea what they were up against outside of the confines of our school. But then at the same time, wasn't Ms. Ford ultimately right? No matter how valid an excuse is, it's still an excuse. At some point, everyone has to decide for themselves "what can't wait," and then follow through and live with that decision.
Ashley Hope Perez has written a novel that is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting, and always 100% realistic. She has given her readers a candid look at what it might mean to be a part of a Mexican family. She has infused the Spanish language into nearly every paragraph, making her readers feel like they are truly listening in to Marisa's world. She has forced me to reexamine my own thoughts on teaching and urban education.
Have you read What Can't Wait? Because I'd love to talk about it with you.
Teachers, parents, and students will all have something to gain through What Can't Wait. Whether it is a deeper understanding of Mexican-American culture, a new perspective on teen pregnancy, an opportunity to examine your own attitude about education, or just the pure and simple pleasure of being immersed in a really outstanding story... this book has something for everyone.
*I would say that this might be better suited for high school students, but I'm well aware that many of the challenges Marisa faces are also present in the lives of middle schoolers. So, I'll say this. If you're planning on passing What Can't Wait along to younger students, make sure you've read it first so that you are prepared for any discussions that may follow.
Much of Perez's inspiration came from her own students in Houston, where she initially taught as a Teach For America corps member. I taught with the TFA '06 corps in Baltimore. Interested in TFA or urban education? Because I'd love to talk about that too :)