TITLE: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
AUTHOR: Benjamin Alire Saenz
RELEASED: March 2017; Clarion Books
GENRE: YA Contemporary
KEY INFO: Platonic love, coming of age, dealing with emotions, family, friendship
REPRESENTATION: Mexican-American (side characters), adopted child, gay men
CONTENT NOTICES: rape, physical violence, male aggression, relatives death and grief
I have long been a fan of Benjamin Alire Sáenz‘s work. I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in 2014 and I felt something shift in me as a reader the moment I read that book. The combination of the lyrical way that Sáenz writes, the heartbreakingly loveable characters, the sensitive themes explored in the book, and the overall plot of Ari & Dante made magic on those pages. It’s one of my favourite books to this day, so of course, I was very excited to read Sáenz’s next YA fiction The Inexplicable Logic of my Life.
Before I launch into my review of this book I just wanted to do a little public announcement. Since reading this book and planning my review, a fellow book blogger made me aware of the way that Sáenz approached another book blogger regarding her review of his book and asked her to apologize for what she had written. His behavior towards that reviewer is not something that I feel able to go into in this review. However, I do want to briefly clarify that I do not ever condone authors approaching reviewers to ask them to change/apologize for/or otherwise negatively interact with them as a result of the review they have posted of their book. Reviews are not for authors, they are for fellow readers and we are all entitled to our own opinions. Following on from that, this review is written completely from my own perspective. I am aware that some readers had issues with this book that I personally didn’t have, so please bear in mind this is my own opinion about this book.
The Inexplicable Logic of my Life is another example of a wonderful book written by Sáenz with all the hallmarks of his writing – lyrical narrative, loveable characters, sensitive issues, and a story that stays with you. Whilst similar to Ari & Dante in some ways, I found the way that TILOML was told through the eyes of a straight, white male protagonist who is surrounded by an eclectic supporting cast interesting. Adopted as a young boy into a Mexican-American family with a gay dad, we follow Salvador Silva as he struggles to deal with the roiling changes that won’t seem to stop crashing onto the previously comfortably settled shores of his life. Life-altering changes like grief, death, homophobia, difference, friendship and all those other Big Things that want to happen to you when you’re just trying to graduate from school. And like many young boys, Sal just doesn’t know how to handle all of these feelings that just make him so angry. Luckily, Sal is surrounded by people who love him, like his dad, his Mima, his brutally honest best friend Sam, and the ever-resilient Fito to help him along the way.
But just like Sal, that big irritating thing called Life Stuff is happening to his loved ones too. His Mima has cancer. Sam is going through some really troubling relationships with abusive men and keeps having screaming matches with her mum. Fito’s family don’t look after him and he ends up on the streets. His dead biological mother wrote him a letter that’s now sitting unopened in his desk drawer. And his father might get back together with an ex and it will be the first man that his father has dated while Sal’s been old enough to notice. Lots of Big Feeling Stuff.
One thing that I love about Sáenz’s writing is that he’s always able to deal with lots of these big issues in a way that allows you to feel all of those emotions that the characters are feeling but keeps your head above water with the love of the surrounding characters. There’s never a section in the book that felt too much for me to cope with because the love, joy, and friendship that the supporting characters offered kept things light enough to carry on without getting too bogged down in the serious stuff. Of course, there were times that I cried and relived through some grief with Sal but Sam, Fito, and his dad were always there to catch us and bring us back into their comforting arms. (Also, queue screaming about Sal’s dad because he’s a beautiful soul and everyone needs to have a dad like Sal’s dad to look after all of us, little-lost souls).
For me, that’s a mark of a good writer and something that always makes me really connect with a book. Similarly to Ari & Dante, I read TILOML during a time when I was feeling quite low. Yet, despite some of the heavy issues that this book deals with I felt like I could always dive back in because I wanted to be surrounded by those characters. As a big fan of character-driven plots this really, really works for me and it’s something I love in books.
As mentioned above, I found the decision to have this particular story told from the perspective of a straight, white, guy interesting. By having a white guy telling the story, I think it allowed him to make a lot of mistakes that white people make and gave the other characters an opportunity to pull him up on those mistakes. In that way, it was a useful learning tool as a white reader, but I’m not sure what kind of reading experience a Mexican reader would have. As someone who is a white, British person, I love opportunities to read Own Voice books with Mexican-American characters. Sadly, we don’t get a tonne of books over here in England that have Mexican or Mexican-American characters in them so I always look for opportunities to read more books like this, especially ones which are intersectional across different races, genders, and sexualities.
Another thing that was also nice about TILOML is that there is no protag romance. The book is alllll about platonic friend relationships and it was really nice to see that with a trio of straight guy/straight girl/gay guy for a change. Sal and Sam are constantly texting each other while in the same room, they all keep secrets from each other because that’s what friends do but then they support each other through their respective shit, they call each other out when they do crappy things but then make up in a healthy manner, they encourage each other to Feel Feelings and Talk About Things.
A few reviewers have taken issue with some of the remarks made in the book by the characters as well as the depiction of sexual assault. However, neither of these things stuck out to me as particularly problematic based on my own experiences. To me, both the flippant remarks made by the young characters and the way that Sam (and Sal) handle sexual harassment were very realistic. Comments they make are made by young people. The way that Sam continues to talk to the guy who sexually assaulted her and takes her feelings out on Sal for being ‘overprotective’ does happen. These things happen and people do behave like that out there in the real world. That’s not to say at all that those things are “okay” and I don’t think that’s how Sáenz wrote those things but I think he shows how they weren’t the most healthy behaviors or remarks through the character’s growth throughout the book. Once Sam moves into a safe, loving environment, she begins to make very different choices about her attitude, her relationships with others, and her relationship with herself. To me, that shows that she has come to terms with the fact that it’s not okay for men to treat her badly but in a way that comes out through gradual growth rather than a big confrontation. Characters do not always have to stand up like Gryffindors and renounce every single bad behavior ever to prove they’re bad, and characters are not mouthpieces for the author. That might be an unpopular opinion, but that’s how I feel.
Having said that, it’s completely okay for people to feel differently. We all experience books differently, we all react to things differently, and things affect us differently. If you had a different experience with this book and felt that there were things very wrong with it then that’s okay! Those are just not things that I felt and I’m sorry if that upsets anyone.
The Inexplicable Logic of my Life is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and I think it will stay a controversial book due to the sensitive issues that it dealt with. We will never all agree on these things. This book is definitely not perfect and there is always room for improvement, but personally, I did love this book for all the reasons I talked about and it is a book that I will be reading again.