Review || The Inexplicable Logic of my Life- Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Trigger Warning: Attempted sexual assault, Successive deaths

 The Inexplicable Logic of my Life focuses on our main character Sal, a white boy who was adopted into a Mexican family. He has always felt in control of his life and certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and the rest of his Mexican-American family. But things start to change, and change was not something that Sal adapted to very well. Suddenly he was no longer feeling in charge of his feelings and emotions and he starts to wonder who he truly was. His own history unexpectedly returns to haunt him and together with his best-friend Samantha, he now has to confront issues of faith, loss and grief. The book takes us on a journey with Sal’s thoughts and feelings and how the experiences shape him and simultaneously help him to rediscover himself.

Having read and enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, I had very high expectations for this book. And I did enjoy reading it…I guess. There were various moments during the novel that gave me the opportunity to change my perspective on life and the suffering that it brings with it, however there were so many issues throughout the novel that truly disappointed me. But let me start off by talking about the things that I enjoyed.

“Life had its seasons, and the season of letting go would always come, but there was something very beautiful in that, in letting go. Leaves were always graceful as they floated away from the tree.”

First of all, this book has no romantic elements but instead focuses solely on platonic friendships and family relationships- something that is very hard to find in YA books. The only feelings that Sal and Samantha have for each other are those of a deeply rooted friendship that was quite endearing to read about. It was so refreshing to read about their relationship and the way it developed while still remaining platonic. I did however find Samantha to be a tad too self-righteous at times and always trying to be in control of their friendship. There’s no other way to describe her character other than grating and annoying and while she did grow towards the end of the novel, I still found her very much intolerable.

My favourite character by far is Fito, probably because I saw a part of myself in him, in that I often judge myself way too harshly and reject help simply because I do not think that I deserve it. I also admired his perseverance to work and continue his education despite the lack of support from his family. Sally is also an interesting character and I quite enjoyed being inside his head, being able to read his thoughts and the way he questions many things about himself and life in general. And while certain attempts at being philosophical proved ineffectual at times, I think the author truly succeeded in making the reader think about topics that people usually try to avoid. Sal is also endearing in so many ways, such as when he ‘shares’ his dog with his friends whenever they were sad, his beautiful relationship with his grandmother and his loyalty to his loved ones.

One thing that truly stands out in this book is the father-son relationship between Vicente and Sal. Sal’s father is such a gentle and compassionate soul who involves himself not only in his son’s life but also in the lives of his friends. The advice that he gives to Sal is peppered with sage wisdom, which often times helps our main character to accept and understand himself better. He is generous, authentic and honest, someone who is ready to welcome strangers into his family with open arms. It was also refreshing to have a constant presence of a father figure , unlike many YA novels where the parents somehow magically disappear, allowing the kids enough free time to take over the world!

Before I nodded off, I thought about what my dad had said — that life wasn’t all nice and neat like a book, and life didn’t have a plot filled with characters who said intelligent and beautiful things. But he wasn’t right about that. See, my dad said intelligent and beautiful things. And he was real. He was the most real thing in the entire world. So why couldn’t I be like him?

I fully applaud this book for it’s diverse cast of characters. We have a gay Mexican-American single father who is honestly the best role model one could ever have. Sáenz also tackles various issues of race, queerness and poverty that all contributed to the journey of self-discovery. The author also addressed many important themes that make you contemplate life itself. Death is constantly present throughout the novel and it takes us on an emotional journey with a family who knows that it would eventually loose a significant member soon. It made me aware that sometimes the sense of impending loss can be even more painful than missing what you have lost. That the knowledge of the lack of time you have left together makes every moment spent with each other even more precious. And death can never take away those special moments that you had shared together.

There is also a pervading theme of nature vs nurture throughout the novel, with the main character constantly trying to address this long-running debate as a way to help him find himself. The nature vs nurture argument attempts to define certain aspects of behaviour either as a product of genetics or acquired characteristics and I think the author managed to deal with this subject pretty well. While genetic inheritance does play an important role in defining our individual traits, what we learn throughout our lives prove to be very important factors that influence our own behaviours.

On another day, I might have cried. But I was still to mad to cry. Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

The writing style did not change at all from his previous book: it has remained simplistic and lyrical. Personally I think it worked really well in Ari and Dante but when it came to this book, I found it quite repetitive and stilted. Every paragraph was swarming with periods that irked me to no end, not allowing the story to flow seamlessly as it should have. The same words and sentences which in the beginning where deeply poetic, became monotone and meaningless due to overuse. Also, this book, like it’s predecessor, lacks a definite plot, and instead focuses on the characters and their relationships. Thus describing it as a reflective story is more fitting. While I adore character-driven books, I felt that the author relied too much on the main character’s unpredictable aggression and it’s cause instead of an actual development. And in the end, I still couldn’t fathom the connection between his anger and the fear and hurt that he was supposedly feeling.

However, the good things about this book do not cancel out the problematic content. There are so many stereotypes and offensive dialogue throughout the novel that I was honestly not expecting and unfortunately overshadowed everything else. Such examples include:

  • ‘She didn’t throw like a girl’ (Then how is she supposed to throw?!)
  • ‘For a gay guy my dad was pretty straight’ (because his father knows how to throw a ball)
  • Sam thinks other girls are ‘bitches’ so she won’t befriend them
  • Sam also thinks that feminists ‘don’t know shit’
  • ‘You’re not a real Mexican’
  • ‘Schizophrenic dork’ was used to describe a certain character
  • Sam using her mother’s death as an excuse to be indulged

Spoilers: But worst of all, I hated the awful way a sexual assault was handled by the author- an unnecessary sub-plot about midway into the book that was brushed off and treated in a very problematic way. Whenever Sally tried to stand up for Sam or gotten really angry with the guy who tried to rape her, he was constantly forced to apologize. As if Sal is the bad guy, not the rapist! I can never wrap my mind around this. I also found this both disturbing and appalling because sexual assault is such a traumatizing experience and the author did not even attempt to show his readers the effects it could have on the victim. This book is written for a younger audience and it’s never ok to teach young people (or any audience for that matter) to feel sorry for the rapist. As if it’s ok to accept their apology and later attempt to go near them again! Hell no. The author should have treated this serious topic with more sensitivity and care and not use it as a throwaway plot device.

While I somewhat enjoyed reading this book, it failed miserably when it came to addressing important issues and the use of certain phrases and stereotypical comments. It’s frustrating to see a book with such potential, failing miserably with it’s problematic content. It honestly doesn’t feel like Aristotle & Dante and this book were written by the same author!


Rating: ☆☆

  •  Genre: Young Adult- Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
  • Edition: Clarion Books, March 2017, Hardback
  • Pages:452
  • Source: Book Depository

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