For this post, I put my academic hat on and asked Ashley what she thought of "the hows and whys of the issue book and contemporary genre, especially as it relates to multicultural stories." And boy, did she deliver!
Here's what she said (along with some awesome pictures):
I never thought of What Can’t Wait as an issue book until I read Maggie’s review a few weeks ago. She described it as “an issue book that gives me exactly what I want out of an issue book while never really feeling like an issue book.”
I really liked the praise that followed this statement, so I was pretty keen on figuring out what kind of issue my novel was about. So I thought back to why I wrote it in the first place: because my students told me that many books about urban, Hispanic teens didn’t ring true to them. Certainly, I wanted to address an issue, but that issue would be best described as a what-the-heck-is-on-the-bookshelf issue (as opposed to issues in a book like anorexia, cutting, divorce, homelessness).
B&NPasadena: These are two of my former students from Chavez. Hector, on the left, was a finalist for an Alley Theatre young playwrights program for a play he wrote in my class. Baltazar, on the right, had my class for three years and fought me all the way when it came to reading. Now, though, he's become a reader and updates me on what he thinks of my novels.
If there were an “issue” in What Can’t Wait, I guess it would be to show why getting to college—even with financial help and special programs—is not so simple for some teens. (And I’m glad my book isn’t “just” an issue novel, because this sounds pretty lame even to me!)
But what teens am I talking about? Let’s say teens whose academic goals are not valued in their family and community. The protag, Marisa, isn’t struggling because her family culture is so different from the dominant culture of her community. Rather, the dominant local culture reflects her folks’ skepticism and wariness about her aspirations.
To drag myself down from these clouds of abstraction, here’s an example. Marisa’s dad dismisses her math ambitions, a reaction that is reinforced by her manager at work, who doesn’t get why she’d go in for tutoring rather than take on extra hours. Her sister disregards the value of Marisa’s education every time she cons her into babysitting during school hours, and her brother is no better. Even Marisa’s friends have trouble relating to her desire to venture out beyond Houston.
Cassandra Flores: Cassandra is another former student. You'll notice that she's holding a stack of papers. That's actually the original manuscript of my first novel, which she (and a lot of other students) read in draft form while I was still teaching.
Now, don’t get me wrong: some of my students had tons of support for their educational goals from their families. But plenty of them faced challenges like Marisa’s. I wanted to draw readers into the drama of those challenges.
For readers who share this experience, I hope What Can’t Wait offers the relief of “I’m not alone.” For readers who don’t, I hope that the novel gives them a taste of a different world.
For ALL my readers, I hope they find an engrossing story that they can’t read fast enough. Because that’s every novelist’s most important job.
LECJ7: Here I am doing a school visit with a group of sophomores at LECJ, a high school in Houston. I'm pretty goofy, but I think everybody had fun. That day I also got to do an interview in Spanish for the local news on Houston's Univision. Lots of fun!
P.S. Maggie mentioned that she liked how What Can’t Wait contains Spanish without an instant paraphrase following. When we were chatting about this post, I said I’d try to work something in about the Spanish. Since I failed to do that, here’s a P.S. on the subject.
My main rationale for not “explaining” every bit of Spanish or offering a glossary is simple: most of my students wouldn’t need a glossary. To include a glossary would have been to say, “Actually, this book is meant as a tour for . See? It comes with a travel guide…” I wrote about this and more in a Diversityin YA post a couple of months ago.
Basic Spanish will get most readers through the smattering of Spanish in the novel. And readers who don’t speak Spanish are still super-invited to journey into the book. I try to make sure that readers won’t “miss” anything just for not knowing a Spanish phrase. And wordreference.com is just a few keystrokes or taps away on any number of mobile devices.
For those who can(t) wait for The Knife and the Butterfly's release (ha! I love bad book title puns), you can follow Ashley at her blog or on Twitter. And if you haven't already, go out and buy What Can(t) Wait! It's perfect for both the Debut Author Challenge and the PoC Reading Challenge, and I hope you'll love it as much as I did.
Thank you so much, Ashley!