Genre: Contemporary, YA, LGBT+
Publication date: 7th March 2017 by Clarion Books
Format: eARC sent to me for review by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group via Netgalley.
The first day of senior year:
Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.
Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?
It’s been a while since I picked up a book by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the last one being Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – which I adored and reviewed in my early blogging days. I loved this book too, maybe not quite as much (A&D was truly exceptional), but it was wonderful nonetheless.
Something that strikes me in Sáenz’s writing is the positive emphasis on family. Yes, there are problematic families in this book too, which are discussed and developed, but Sal’s family is incredibly close and caring and I genuinely love this portrayal. His father is gay, and to avoid spoilers I don’t want to talk too much about his relationship, but it is sensitively and genuinely shown. The extended family, too, is covered, and I love the connection that the members have to one another, and happily extend to those who need some love from a family too.
His characters are all so unique and fantastically developed, you feel as though they are real people and become fully invested in their lives. The friendship between Sal and Samantha is one of the most perfect friendships I’ve seen portrayed in a book – not perfect in that everything is wonderful, but perfect because it is flawed, they fall out, make up, but it’s realistic. Also, the lack of romance made me extremely happy, there was no need for them to fall in love, in fact, I think it would have spoiled it a bit, and I definitely appreciated seeing the male-female friendship staying at just that.
Sáenz’s writing style is absolutely incredible. I remember, even now, how much I loved it in is Aristotle and Dante. It does not disappoint here either, it’s poetic and beautiful and flowing and just wonderful. If I try and talk about it much more I’ll end up reusing adjectives because all I can do is gush about it.
There is not much of a plot, though there are several events that occur and take Sal on his ‘journey’. It didn’t need some ‘big scheme’ happening. Natural, realistic events are what make this book so good. Sal’s experience could be someone else’s, and that’s what makes a book so great.
It is such a diverse book, with LGBT+ characters, Mexican-American families, poverty, and variety of family situations. I don’t think I need to say I’d recommend this – it should be obvious from my review… I love Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s books, I’ve come to that conclusion, and I can’t wait to get to the rest of them (I have another that I received recently as a gift so that’ll be read soon). His characters are phenomenal and it’s also impossible not to fall in love with his writing.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 🌟