“Words exist only in theory. And then one ordinary day you run into a word that exists in theory. And you meet it face to face. And then that word becomes someone you know. That word becomes someone you hate. And you take that word with you wherever you go. And you can’t pretend it isn’t there.”
– The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Sal is adopted, but he grew up loved, and certain of his place within his family. He loves his grandmother and his father Vicente, and his best friend Samantha. When he first experiences loss, things slowly began to change. And things keep changing. Suddenly he no longer knows who he is, and wonders about his biological family and whether his anger comes from them.
I think if I were to just read the synopsis of this book, without knowing who wrote it, I might have been a little interested but not enough to pick it up. But because this is a book by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, it’s both an auto-buy and Read Immediately title for me. I didn’t know what it was about, going in. I didn’t care. I trusted the author. And I have to say, I am so glad I did because this is possibly my favourite read of the year. I remember loving both Ari and Dante so much in his previous book, and the way it discussed toxic masculinity and internalised homophobia in a story that was so beautifully written. At first, I was a little disappointed that Sal isn’t gay, but that disappointment only lasted a little while.
It’s a good thing, because Sal and Samantha’s friendship is so strong and real and full of the exasperation and love that comes with longtime friendships – and I love that this book keeps the friendship that way when others might have them falling in love. I love how Sal brings Fito into the fold, turning them into a trio. I love that this book has absolutely ZERO romance between the main characters. I love Vicente, one of my favourite parents in YA fiction now (not that there are many decent parents in YA fiction!). I love the way this book explores death and grief in different ways, and depicts very complex family dynamics. I love Sam and Sal and Fito, not because they’re particularly nice or good or even likable people, but because they felt more real to me than most YA characters I’ve read. Which brings me to the thing that I am only realising recently, that some people are giving this book bad reviews due to its content.
(Personally, I have no problem with the content. I also think that people have the right to not want to read about characters that aren’t 100% woke, and if you’re one of them, this may not be the book for you.)
Yes, Sal makes several of stereotypical assumptions – I never took them seriously because he’s a teenager, and he definitely isn’t Dante (who probably would never say/think some of the things Sal does). He says things that I normally would take issue with, so he isn’t flawless, and maybe to some not even likable. And Sam – I think I wouldn’t like her at all if I met her. She thinks she’s right all the time and she’s one of those girls who thinks that she “isn’t like the other girls”, and in the beginning she makes all these assumptions about Fito. She makes decisions and says things that I find questionable throughout the book. But as I’ve said in other reviews, I don’t need to like the characters. I don’t need to think they’re perfect, flawless people who would never say or do the wrong thing. I just have to find them engaging, and real, and sympathetic – and they were all of that to me.
Can I also say that I really appreciate the complexity of Sal’s racial identity? As someone who is very racially mixed, and who spent her first five years outside of her “home” country, who had been and still is sometimes referred to as “not a real [insert identity here]”, I like that Sal is white but identifies as Mexican because of his upbringing, and that Sam is almost the opposite. Oh, and because Sal’s sexuality isn’t really addressed in the book (it is only confirmed that he isn’t gay), I headcanon him as ace.
This book isn’t Aristotle and Dante. In some ways, I like it more. In others, I really don’t. It’s different, but it does the same thing for me – it gives me hope, and it makes me believe that there are people like Vicente in the world, and that thought alone makes me think of the world as a brighter place to be in.