“I guess life hurt everybody. I didn’t understand the logic of this thing called living. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to.”
Thank you very much to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group and Netgalley for providing a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s newest novel is an endearing story about the different types of families and what it means to belong and to be loved. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a beautiful and touching novel that made me question everything I had ever thought about my own family and the relationships I have with those closest to me.
The novel follows Salvador Silva in his senior year of high school and how the familiar and ordered world he has always known is slowly changing. Sal’s adoptive gay father is starting to date once more, his loving Mexican-American grandmother is in the final stages of a dire illness, and his best friend Samantha is struggling with her flighty and irresponsible mother. The stress is getting to Sal and suddenly he is throwing punches, questioning everything, and feels as though he is becoming more and more like the birth father he never met. This is the year Sal discovers who he really is and where he fits into the family he has created for himself.
“I didn’t know how to tell her that I wasn’t all those beautiful things she thought I was. That things were changing, and I could feel it but I couldn’t put it into words.”
I adored Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Sáenz’s most popular novel, and when I found out that Sáenz had written another YA book, I knew it would be just as tender and sweet as Ari and Dante’s story. Sáenz has this way of getting into a teenager’s head and looking at life – the anxiety of change, the questions of belonging – through their eyes. There is something just so emphatically real about Sáenz’s writing, how his words and the images he paints expresses such intense feelings within the reader. Maybe this is why it is so easy to read his work and devour a 464 page novel in a matter of days. His writing is like a stream of consciousness; it flows and transforms and pierces the reader’s heart.
Sal is perhaps one of the most compassionate and benevolent protagonists I have read in YA fiction. I connected with him almost immediately and really felt for him. His relationship with his father was the driving force of the novel, at least for me. I can count on one hand the amount of novels I have read which feature a positive and loving relationship between fathers and sons, and The Inexplicable Logic is by far the best of them. Sal and Vicente’s relationship is so beautiful and affectionate, it brought tears to my eyes many times. Think Gilmore Girls but with men (minus the constant stream of pop culture references and banter). Sal and Vicente are father and son, but friends, too. It is so heartening to see this type of relationship celebrated in YA fiction, especially in a world where men are told to withhold their emotions.
“The storm was fierce. But I wasn’t afraid. I knew my father’s love was fiercer than any storm.”
I also admired the friendship between Sal and Sam. It is not often one reads a book with such intense platonic love between men and women, and I am very thankful to Sáenz for going in this direction. As rare as a sweet relationship between father and son is, platonic friendship between a girl and a boy is even rarer, primarily in YA fiction where there is so much pressure on authors to develop a romance. Sal and Sam are always there for one another and talk about such personal issues with no judgement or mockery. A wonderful depiction of a healthy and stable friendship.
As with all Benjamin Alire Sáenz novels, the characters are the strongest element of the book and the plot is rather simple. That does not take away from my enjoyment of the text; if anything, it enhances it. The straightforward storyline gave way to outstanding and highly developed characterisation. The plot essentially follows Sal through one year of his life and all the anxiety that comes with senior year and one’s life irrevocably changing. Sal struggles with issues of belonging, bullying, as well as the all-pervading threat of cancer. It is just Sal’s life, and, paired with Sáenz’s beautiful writing, somehow the story develops from the dictation of the life of a simple boy, to an intense, emotion-filled book about love, family and change.
“Living is an art, not a science.”
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life tore my heart out. It is such an easy novel to read, and yet it feels heavy when you are reading it. I loved every moment of this book, even the parts where I cried. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novels always touch me in some way, but The Inexplicable Logic did something irreversible to my emotions.