I thoroughly enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe, so when I saw Benjamin Alire Sáenz was coming out with a new book, I lost no time in asking my local library to lend me a copy.
This book follows Sal, a pretty chill high school senior who suddenly finds himself swinging punches at everyone who looks at him the wrong way. It’s not how his adopted father has raised him, so Sal has to wonder, is this something he inherited from his biological father?
Sal has no idea who his biological father is and his mother died when he was very young. Sal’s dad is a gay Mexican American who was best friends with Sal’s mother, so he’s not just some random guy who adopted Sal from an orphanage. He was there when Sal was born, and when Sal’s mother got sick, they made the decision together to make him Sal’s legal guardian.
Sal is white, but because he’s been raised by a Mexican-American family, he doesn’t identify as white. His dad’s entire family has had no trouble treating Sal like one of their own (he has no contact with his mother’s family. They probably don’t even know he exists) and one of Sal’s favorite things is eating fresh tortillas from his grandma’s kitchen.
The book doesn’t have much of a plot and I’m OK with that. It’s about Sal trying to find himself and it’s very much driven by his character development and relationships with those around him.
There are quite a few deaths in this book. Sal’s two best friends both lose their mothers in the course of this book, in addition to Sal’s grandma getting cancer and dying. Sal also finds out his mom left a letter for him before she died and his dad waited until just now to tell him this, but Sal has a hard time bringing himself to open it.
In fact, all the death seemed a bit improbable to me for a book that doesn’t take place during a war or a plague. Yes, tragic things happen and even young children can lose their parents, but to have all three of these friends lose their mothers before turning eighteen (and two of them so close together) tested the limits of my suspension of disbelief.
Finally, there’s no romance in this book, which I appreciated, even if the current state of entertainment has trained me to look for every possible opportunity for romance in everything I read and watch.
The only real romance was the rekindling of a flame between Sal’s dad and his ex-boyfriend. Sal’s not exactly happy about it, but it has nothing to do with the fact that his dad is gay. Sal’s complicated feelings are the same as most kids who feel conflicted about their parents dating: he’s used to having his dad all to himself and now he doesn’t and that sucks more than he had thought it would.
What did you guys read this week? Any other great new releases I should check out?