Book: What Can’t Wait
Author: Ashley Hope Perez
Source: electronic ARC from NetGalley.com
Marissa is an anomaly in her depressed Houston neighborhood. More interested in math than partying and college than boys, she knows she can have a different life if only she can make it to college. But her day-to-day life has so many demands that they’re drowning her. She’s expected to help support the family, to look after her five-year-old niece, to help her mother with the house, and a hundred other things that get in the way of working toward her future. How can she abandon her family for her own selfish goals?
In general, I loved this book. Working in a neighborhood economically similar to Marissa’s, it was an eye-opener to realize how difficult it is for these kids to balance dreams of the future with the demands of today. Her teachers are almost no help, lecturing her about the need to stay focused on her education without any recognition of her struggles to do just that, and the pressures of her life that might prevent that. Marissa is not lazy by a long shot, and she knows full well that an education is her ticket out, but there are only so many hours in the day. How do you tell your adorable niece, ignored by everyone except yourself, that you can’t read to her because you’re working on calculus?
Unfortunately, one of the things I had a very bad time with was the portrayal of men and boys in this book. With the exception of Alan, her too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, Marissa is surrounded by men who perpetuate every Latino stereotype out there. Her immigrant father is overbearing and dismissive of her academic achievements. Her dropout brother doesn’t have a tenth of the responsibilities to the family that are expected from Marissa. Her brother-in-law is a pothead who got his fool self run over by a forklift, and another boy who enters the story midway through is sexually predatory. They all marinate in machismo. There’s some attempt to explain this portrayal in the case of the father, but not to my satisfaction. A few of these would have been sufficient, but so many in the absence of any more balanced male characters sat ill with me. Yes, men like this exist, but there are shades of grey.
Aside from that annoyance, Marissa's story is a compelling one about how hard the fight for your future is, and how necessary.