“I want to live in the calmness of the morning light.” (47)
Started: May 30th | Finished: June 11th
It hurts me to not have liked this book more.
Everyone knows of my love for Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. In that book, I fell in love with the characters and the writing. I fell in love with the coming-of-age story of two queer, minority teenagers. I fell in love with their complex identities and a unique story that I felt hasn’t been told before.
When starting Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s new novel, I expected to be in love with the same things. But the things I loved about his previous book fell short in The Inexplicable Logic of My Life.
The book follows the point-of-view of 18 year old Salvador, a high school senior who was adopted into a Mexican-American family when his mother passed away when he was three. His relationships are very important to him: his father, who is a gay Mexican man; his best friend, Sam, who is headstrong and wild and always falling in love with bad boys; and his other friend, Fito, who is gay, self-deprecating, and has lived a rough life on the streets.
Sal and these other characters are experiencing significant changes in their lives, focusing on themes of love and loss. Beyond that, there isn’t much of a plot though, with the book mostly focusing on the progression of how they develop over time, mainly advanced with internal monologues being spoken aloud to each other. There’s the underlying thought that life does not follow a strict path and is messy and illogical (hence the book title).
And though the focus on character development over plot was also the case in Aristotle & Dante, the lack of a drive was more noticeable in this book. Don’t get me wrong, things do happen—fights occur, college applications are being sent, secrets emerge—so there is some movement, but there were moments where it just felt like the book was dragging on. I took a bit longer than I usually do to read it, and it wasn’t because the book was a hard or overwhelming read, but because the book just didn’t hold my attention.
I did enjoy the complexity of the characters. Everyone was unique and came from different places. And their interactions with each other felt very real. One of the highlights of the book for me was the familial relationships. It’s where the book hit me the most (I did cry while reading it, though it doesn’t take much for me to cry). The relationships were so poignant, and Sáenz does a great job of showing how these relationships change through love and loss and experience.
And though there was some character development and growth, by the end, it still felt a little static. Growth was largely moved by dialogue, not by action. It felt disingenuous that change can happen that fast, or maybe it’s just the lack of plot that was getting to me again.
I also found the supporting characters more interesting than the narrator. Sal’s emotions and development were interesting, but I was more compelled by the stories of his friends and his father. By the end, though Sal made big steps towards his future, he still felt the same and it’s unclear how he overcame some of his biggest challenges, besides having multiple talks about his problems with other characters. Maybe that’s just how the writing portrayed it.
There were moments where the writing was absolutely beautiful (for example, the quote I started the review off with), but other times, it was repetitive. The same phrase/concept would be repeated in every chapter, to the point where it would just begin to lose its meaning for me. It would be a concept that I loved with its introduction, but would become so clichéd by the end.
(For example: there’s this idea of “whistling in the dark” that’s mentioned throughout the story. It’s about finding comfort and laughter even in the darkest of times, to show that things will get better or aren’t as bad as they seem—whistling to yourself when you’re in the dark so you don’t feel as alone. I love the idea, but it was being mentioned constantly, with the phrase being dropped at random moments. And it got tiring to read, even though I was still in love with the concept as a whole.)
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life just wasn’t as capturing as I hoped it would be. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe the writing felt a little too stinted and overdone. But overall, I’m disappointed I didn’t enjoy the book more.
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