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.”
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.”