Marisa’s dad is a Mexican immigrant. He’s had a hard life in the shadow of his stepmother and as an adult always reminds his kids that: family is everything; hard work is what matters; and you’d better never embarrass him. He’s tough and the best thing we can say about his relationship to Marisa is that he’s disapproving.
Of course, lots of parents disapprove of their teens. After all, if teens didn’t try to find their own way, away from their parents, what would the point of adolescence be? The problem with Marisa’s father’s disapproval is that it isn’t the kind that will help her improve her life. Just the opposite. If she’s a really good girl, it’s going to hold her back.
Marisa is very bright, is taking AP Calculus and getting good grades. But what matters most to her dad is that she work her shifts at Kroger’s (a grocery store—I don’t think there are any in California, but it’s a major chain), turn over half of her paycheck to her parents, watch her niece (the child of a sister who got pregnant in high school), cook meals and help keep up the house. With such a schedule, Marisa is having a hard time concentrating on her schoolwork. When she starts dating the boy she’s always liked, she starts to wonder if she can make it out of her Houston, Texas barrio. Though her mother is nice, she has a way of laying the guilt on pretty thick. If Marisa goes away to college, what will her mother do? How will she get by?
Marisa’ AP Calc teacher reminds her of her considerable gifts as a student. She encourages her to push on. But there’s a cultural divide, and the teacher doesn’t quite get what is holding Marisa back.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful that I picked up this book. I know I often tell you that great books will help you understand people whose lives are very different from your own. But it’s also good to read a book in which the protagonist is just like you. And Marisa is a girl a lot of students will recognize in themselves. Have fun reading this quick book, full of hope and realism.