What Can't Wait

  • Interest Level: Grade 9 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 7

“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…

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Interest Level Grade 9 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Young Adult
Category Diverse Books: Feminism, Diverse Books: Immigration & Refugees, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diversity
Copyright 2011
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Lab ®
Language English
Number of Pages 240
Publication Date 2012-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 6.2
Text Type Fiction
BISACS YAF058100, YAF011000, YAF058220
Dewey [Fic]
Dimensions 5.25 x 7.5
Lexile 680
ATOS Reading Level 7.0
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 141663
Accelerated Reader® Points 4.2
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, and Reviewed

Author: Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of award-winning books for young adults, including What Can’t Wait, The Knife and the Butterfly, and Out of Darkness. Out of Darkness was described by The New York Times as a “layered tale of color lines, love and struggle” and was named one of Booklist’s “50 Best YA Books of All Time.” It also won the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award, the 2016 Américas Award, and a 2016 Printz honor for excellence in young adult literature from the American Library Association. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her two beautiful sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés, Ashley teaches world literature at The Ohio State University. Visit her online at www.ashleyperez.com or find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ashleyhopeperez.


  • South Carolina Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2015
  • Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2013
  • YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, Winner, 2012
  • Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominee, Nominated, 2012
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List, Long-listed, 2011
  • The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon, Winner, 2011
  • Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award Reading List, Long-listed, 2011
  • SSLI Book Award Honor Book, Commended, 2011


Drake University Blog

By day, Dr. Sarah Derry manages the SC STEM Hub and a busy family life. Still, she makes time to read each night, and her choices often involve books with a STEM element.
Today, she’s sharing one of her favorites: What Can’t Wait, by award-winning author Ashley Hope Pérez. The book is a fictional narrative that explores some of the real-world challenges faced by youth under-represented in STEM.
One of the things Derry likes about the book is that contains an important example that girls like math and are good at it! ‘’This book helps illustrate social factors that can complicate a student’s academic success,’’ she said. ‘’I wish I had read it before my first year as a high school teacher.’‘
Derry on a quest for the book.
Through a program called Teach for America, Derry found her calling in STEM education. As a high school teacher in the Houston schools, Derry realized first-hand some of the struggles urban students face in their journey toward academic success. This book parallels those real-life stories.
The main character, Marisa, has an affinity for calculus. She is the 17-year-old daughter of immigrant parents and, potentially, the first in her family to attend college. Throughout the narrative, the reader witnesses Marisa’s struggle to define her expectations for herself among the conflicting expectations of her teachers, friends, y familia.
Derry recommends What Can’t Wait for a wide audience, which follows the growing trend of YA books moving into adult fiction. ’’This is the perfect book for middle/high school students and educators,‘’ said Derry. ’’Whether they come from a background that is under-represented in STEM or not, the theme of defining oneself among the expectations of others (real or perceived) is universal.‘’
This is just one of Pérez’s three critically-acclaimed books. In addition to What Can’t Wait, check out The Knife and the Butterfly and her most recent, Out of Darkness. She currently teaches world literature at Ohio State University and conducts research in the areas of Latin American literature, Latina/o literature, and narrative ethics.
Here’s what Kirkus Reviews thought about Pérez’s book:
‘’Pérez fills a hole in YA lit by giving Marisa an authentic voice that smoothly blends Spanish phrases into dialogue and captures the pressures of both Latina life and being caught between two cultures…. Un magnífico debut.’’

The Horn Book Guide

“Pérez’s perspective on Mexican American culture in Texas is authentic; the gritty setting and hard-knocks characters carry the story.” —The Horn Book Guide

The ALAN Review

" In a heart-wrenching struggle of friendship, family allegiance, and finding love, Marisa discovers what it truly means to leave the expectations of everyone else behind and become an individual who follows after her hopes and dreams. Her genuinely relatable voice and passion allow readers to grasp for themselves how freeing oneself from the burdens of the world leads to the discovery that ‘there’s no magic here. Just my own life.’ " —The ALAN Review

Library Media Connection

“Marisa’s gritty, compassionately related story will resonate with teens in immigrant communities. Recommended.” —Library Media Connection

School Library Journal

“This strong first novel makes an excellent choice for populations with large numbers of immigrant students.” —School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly

“Peréz’s debut is a realistic portrayal of challenges faced by immigrant families and conflicting cultural norms, as well as a sensitive exploration of teen pregnancy (Marisa’s older sister and Alan’s younger sister become pregnant in high school). Strong-willed but emotionally vulnerable, Marisa is aware that pursuing a life that’s fulfilling on her own terms comes with a price, and her bittersweet decision leads to an honest and satisfying ending.” —Publishers Weekly

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“A timely, realistic and unflinching portrayal of an unfortunately pressing problem for many immigrant teens.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“Perez breathes credible and engaging life into her calculus-loving protagonist and the assorted adults and youth with whom she copes, on whom she relies, and against whom she battles. As a former teacher, Perez brings authenticity to the Houston high school Marisa attends, and as a product of a similar neighborhood to Marisa’s, she paints a complex portrait of the various struggles between generations, languages, and genders that is cogent and natural. Her narrative style is fluid and literary.” —VOYA


“This solid debut deftly explores the daily struggle of some students to persevere in the face of long odds.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

“First-time author Pérez fills a hole in YA lit by giving Marisa an authentic voice that smoothly blends Spanish phrases into dialogue and captures the pressures of both Latina life and being caught between two cultures…. Un magnífico debut.” —Kirkus Reviews