Guest Post: Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez, author of What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly, agreed to wrap up her recent blog tour with a guest post here on the Lerner blog. Here, she tells us what she wants readers to know about the similarities and differences between her two novels.

Thanks to the amazing folks at Lerner, my latest novel The Knife and the Butterfly looks gorgeous next to my debut novel, What Can’t Wait. You can tell just by looking that these books belong together. Kind of the way any siblings, no matter how different, belong to the same family. But—as you can also tell from the covers and book blurbs—The Knife and the Butterfly is not (NOT!) a sequel to What Can’t Wait. In fact, it’s so different that sometimes I feel like I need to prepare readers.

When I’m writing, this kind of thing is not a problem. It’s not even something I think about. Each project presents me with its particular terms and demands, and I accept them. I don’t know any other way to write.

But things get more complicated when it’s time to introduce the new novel to the world. I feel a little like a mom at that first back-to school conference with a teacher who has taught one of my kids before. “He’s really different,” I want to say, “but there are still lots of reasons—maybe even more—to care about him and take time to get to know him.”

Hang on, aren’t both What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly set in Houston? (Yes.) Don’t they feature Hispanic protagonists? (Yes.) Aren’t they both contemporary realistic fiction? (Mostly yes.) Isn’t there even a character from What Can’t Wait who shows up in The Knife and the Butterfly? (Yes! And you get bonus points if you can find that character!)

Now let’s look at a few of the differences in the characters’ worlds. Marisa, the protagonist of What Can’t Wait, is trying to figure out how she can go away to college without blowing all her family/friend relationships. Azael, the protag of The Knife and the Butterfly, dropped out of school after seventh grade and drifts from friends’ couches to abandoned apartments in the area of town where he grew up. Marisa’s mother sometimes undermines her efforts to put education first, and her father is overbearing and often ungrateful. Azael’s parents are missing completely; his mother died when he was a kid, and his father was deported back to El Salvador before Azael was out of middle school, leaving him and his brother essentially orphaned. Their gang and neighbors are the closest things they have to family. Marisa feels invisible sometimes in spite of the teachers, friends, and boyfriend who care about her. Azael has completely fallen through the cracks of just about every system that should have looked out for him. When the novel opens, he is a dropout, a gang member, and a kid on the fringe of everything most of us take for granted.

The best way I can think of to explain the different worlds represented in What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly is this: What Can’t Wait reflects the tough world of some of the students I was lucky enough to teach. The Knife and the Butterfly is about the kids I never got to teach. It is my exploration of one world that swallowed up students and sucked them out of school long before their peers walked into a senior English class.

Readers who pull both books off the shelf will discover at least two different dimensions of teen experience. They will think about how education and family make a way to a better future for one character (Marisa in What Can’t Wait), and they will feel the weight of lost promise—and the narrow margins in which change is possible—for another character (Azael in The Knife and the Butterfly).

In fact, that’s how I want to picture my readers—not staring at my books on a shelf, but holding one in each hand.

And lucky for you, readers, Ashley’s first book, What Can’t Wait, will be available in paperback in just a few short months!

Did you miss any of the interviews or guest posts in the blog tour for The Knife and the Butterfly? Find all the links in one place here. And be sure to check out Ashley’s blog, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.