The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publication: March 7th, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Format: e-ARC, 464 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age, LGBTQ+
Read: April 2017
I received an e-ARC of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group and Clarion Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
From the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.
Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he? This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.
Plot – 3 out of 5 stars
Like other books from this author, there’s no linear plot, these books are generally focused on the characters and their growth throughout. This book deals with love, death, family, friendship, grief and anger. It deals with how all these things affect your relationships with people and how they affect you as a person. Unfortunately there’s a scene that mishandles a sexual assault and that’s not something I can take lightly.
Writing Style – 3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m a really big fan of this author’s writing style but in this particular book, there were some misses. The writing style is lyrical and poetic. It reads really quickly and it’s engaging. It’s very emotional and very powerful. However, there were instances with unfortunate phrasing in terms of gender norms and “standards” for representing your ethnicity. There was constant use of a derogatory term as well as ableist language and none of that was necessary for the story.
Characters – 3 out of 5 stars
Again, another area that unfortunately didn’t sell itself completely. I liked a lot of the characters and their relationships were very real and powerful. But there were some things that really got on my nerves.
Salvador is a good main character. His point of view was really intense and emotional. He’s quiet and sweet but almost in a practiced way which I totally related to. He was almost afraid of his anger and where it came from and I have definitely been through that. He’s really lost and confused and I wanted to wrap him in my arms a lot of the time.
However, I had some issues with the side characters. Sam, who is Sal’s best friend, was my biggest issue by far. Her personality just really rubbed me the wrong way. She’s very pushy and argumentative. I really don’t like the kind of people that try to dictate the way that you should act or feel and she was like that not only with Sal but with everyone around her and that was so annoying. She has a kind heart which I appreciated and I liked that she was really in tune with her emotions but those moments when that other side came out would ruin her for me. I really loved how the entire cast was predominantly Mexican and how that culture was integrated so deeply into the story. It was just so nice to read about Latinx family and culture so genuinely expressed.
I’m so incredibly disappointed by this book. The author has been one of my favorites for awhile but this book is just really problematic for no real reason.
The plot is character driven. We follow Salvador, a teen adopted into a Mexican family as him and his friends deal with grief. This book could’ve been so amazing. It had a lot of potential to be a new favorite but there were so many little, unnecessary issues that brought the whole thing down. Overall, what this bo oks sets out to do with it’s story, it does it well. This book is all about character growth, family relationships and their complexity as well as grief and friendship. There’s a lot of things involved and everything is well done and it feels real. The characters feel real, their relationships are honest and full of ups and downs. It’s emotional, it’s powerful and the author explores these deep themes really well. It could’ve been such a moving and impactful story. However, there were a lot of negative things involved throughout the narrative that brought everything good thing down. Unfortunate phrasing and word choices was a real issue. From perpetuating gender and sexual identity stereotypes to ableism and the use of a derogatory term constantly. There’s sentences like “You know, for a gay guy, my dad was pretty straight” because Sal’s Dad knew and taught him how to play catch and “One of the great things about Sam was that she didn’t throw like a girl” which is a straight up lie since she’s a girl and she can throw a ball which means she throws like a girl period. Both of these sentences can be found in page 75 of the digital ARC that I got and what makes me the most angry and annoyed is the fact that they can easily be taken out. You can say that the Dad taught them to play catch and that the girl Sam is good at it without reiterating these ugly stereotypes, specially since it wouldn’t change anything about the overall story if those things weren’t there. Another thing that really bothered me as Latinx and biracial was the focus on what made the characters “real Mexicans” which is such an arbitrary concept. I understand why the author felt the need to make that a conversation within the narrative, as the main character is white and adopted by a Mexican family and that thought is a big part of his self-reflection. But the way it was handled was really rough. I don’t think being able to make food from scratch or speak Spanish perfectly or be able to dance makes anyone more Latinx than anyone else and that idea between the characters was tossed around a lot and it bothered me. The biggest issue was the mishandling of a sexual assault situation. On page 295 of the digital ARC, there’s a scene where Sam is speaking to the guy who assaulted her. Sal obviously gets angry and tries to break it up and he gets slapped by her for his efforts. Apparently the guy was apologizing and he was being forgiven and the one with the problem was the best friend who was being protective. This is the most harmful and ridiculous scene in the entire story. I do not care if he/she begs on their knees and cries, there is no excuse for sexual assault or abuse. Ever. And the last thing to do is toe get angry at your best friend for being worried about your well being when in the presence of someone who tried to violate your boundaries. The slapping part isn’t that big of a deal, I understand her reason for that. What I don’t understand is the fact that she was talking to the douchebag in the first place and that it’s never called sexual assault and never brought up again after this one scene. That’s problematic, it’s messy and it’s potentially harmful to a lot of people. None of the latter things that I’ve mentioned were needed in the narrative. If you take them all away, nothing about the core story would’ve changed and that’s the most frustrating thing about it.
I think Sal was a great narrator. He had a strong voice even with everything that he was going through. The author managed to turn his internal struggles and him questioning himself into a really powerful story. I liked how he dealt with his grief and his commentary on friendship. I really love the relationship that he had with his Dad. They have a very open relationship where they can communicate with each other freely. I understand his struggles with his father finding love and what that means for their dynamic and I connected with him a lot.
I’ll talk about the side characters only a little bit. I had a lot of issues with Sam and her personality. She had a really big heart and was a very kind person but her negatives really grated on my nerves. She’s really pushy and kind of rude. She tended to want to know everything and anything about the people in her life and that kind of mindset feels like an invasion of privacy. Having a friendship or close relationship with someone even familial doesn’t automatically mean you get to know every single aspect of someone’s life or that you get to dictate the way their life is supposed to go. That part of her personality really bothered me as the story progressed. Fito is a character that becomes more prominent as the story goes on and I became a big fan of him. I really loved his attitude and the way that he lived his life. He was a great addition to Sal and Sam’s posse haha. Mima is Sal’s grandmother and I think she’s a much more important element in the story than I originally thought. I loved her relationship with Sal and it almost made me cry.
Overall, I’m so incredibly disappointed in this book. It was one of my most anticipated reads for the year and when a lot of my fellow bloggers started pointing out it’s problems, I almost didn’t want to read it at all. I got through it and I agree with the issues that have been pointed out by others before me. I wish it could’ve been as great as the first book I read from this author and all the great things that were in this book were essentially ruined by all the problematic phrasing that are not actually needed at all. It makes me so sad guys.
So that’s it for this post! This review has taken me a really long time because I was dragging my feet through reading the book and sharing my thoughts because it really sucks when favorite authors mess up and don’t move you the way you want through a book. But I can’t not share my honest thoughts and I will not pretend this book was perfect because it wasn’t at all. I hope the Ari & Dante sequel lives up to the expectations I have and that these issues within the narrative can be fixed with that book. I’d love to know if you guys have read this book and what you thought! Thanks so much for reading and I’ll see you on my next post!