When I first heard about this book coming out I was so, so excited. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it; after all Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe is one of my all time favourite books. So, when the first few chapters of the book failed to give me what Ari and Dante had given me – a world that I got sucked into, characters I loved and cared about and an almost lyrical prose – I wasn’t just disappointed, but also frustrated as hell.
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?
I have to give it to Sáenz; his work is the perfect example of art imitating life. What I’m trying to say is that his books never move towards a very particular and specific ending; they always follow life’s rhythms and paces, developing so naturally and effortlessly, in a way that not many authors can deliver.
For the most part I wasn’t sure I liked Sal. Sure, I cared for him but I didn’t really like him. The one I fell in love with was Sam; passionate, brilliant, fiery Sam, a girl I could relate to and love. Basically, I loved Sal’s family and friends more than I could ever love him; he was just not my cup of tea, but I can and did appreciate his devotion and his loyalty to Sam, to Fito and to his family.
What I really loved about this book is that there is no romantic subplot – not for Sal, at least. The story focuses solely on family and friends, and a book of the kind was missing from the YA genre. The things both Sal and Sam had to deal with were so important and so heavy, that a romance would have just taken something out of the story, making it – in my opinion – less important and valuable.
I said before that Sáenz’s books imitate life. I don’t know if that was a conscious decision or not, but his books don’t shy away from the problematic aspects of life either. Lines that are either slightly sexist or slightly homophobic appear numerous times in the book and , while they never get directly challenged, the depictions of the characters themselves challenge a lot of negative stereotypes. Sal is a teenage boy; of course his views aren’t always the best. At first I found myself perplexed; they put me off so much, I considered dropping this one. But once I realized that these things do make Sal more realistic – and not more likeable – I managed to sit back and enjoy it.
Overall, it was a book I fairly enjoyed, one with a steady rhythm, three-dimensional characters and a soul many YA books lack, a heart that beats and breaks – alongside yours.
**A digital ARC was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review**