“I have a memory that is almost like a dream: the yellow leaves from Mima’s mulberry tree are floating down from the sky like giant snowflakes…the afternoon shadows are dancing with a life that is far beyond my boyhood understanding. Mima is singing something Spanish. There are more songs living inside her than there are leaves on her tree…”
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publication Date: March 7th, 2017
Some minor spoilers ahead. The story kind of meandered anyway so I’m not actually sure what “spoiler” means in the context of this book.
This book reminds me of 40-something year old mothers that go around saying things like “lit” or “turnt” in a desperate attempt to connect with her teenage kids. It doesn’t work and neither did this book. (Neither of these particular slang words were used, but “no bueno” and “true that” were used quite liberally.)
I loved Aristotle and Dante. I loved Last Night I Sang to the Monster. This book wants to have the same lyrical writing as those but honestly it just comes out way overdone and seems kinda cheesy.
There several themes explored here though that I did like:
loss of a loved one
loss of a parent even when you didn’t get along with them
Sadly though, the main conflict left something to be desired.
This is a purely coming of age tale and the conflict of the story takes place almost entirely inside the mind of the main character, Salvador. He has started to feel more violent lately, more prone to wanting to knock someone’s lights out in tense situations before trying diplomacy. He starts to wonder about his biological father and if he gets this from him.
The conclusion to this left a lot to be desired. I felt like it was wrapped up in a few sentences with nothing really bringing Salvador to that point. He just decides that he’s not going to be like that and so is not.
I also really did not like Samantha. I think she was supposed to be a character that the readers falls in love with and laughs at and so not liking her I think took away from my enjoyment of the story. She was just kind of a bitch!
Salvador’s first experience knocking someone’s lights out is early in the story and Sam is telling him throughout the book that she thinks he is changing and she is a little frightened of these changes in him. Then not long before the end of the book she ends up slapping the same character he punched for the exact same reason. The only explanation given for why she did it is “it’s who I am. It’s not who you are.”
Um, I really hope this is not a pearl of wisdom that we are trying to pass on to teenagers. It is okay to bring violence to someone if that’s “who you are”? NO!
I know everyone is talking about the treatment of sexual assault in this book too. So long story short, Sam is sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. A while later in the book, Sal sees Sam talking to this guy by her locker, gets pissed, and gets in the face of this guy. Sam slaps him and tells him to back off and later tells Sal that the guy was apologizing.
So, I think that it was not Sal’s place to rush to Sam’s defense. If Sam chooses to let the guy apologize, that is her business. Sal, as her best friend, should feel free to tell her if she is being an idiot afterward, but really has no place trying to start a fight.
Here is my real problem with this whole thing. Sal is told at one point that this anger and violence that he is feeling is just part of growing up, all boys go through it. This sounds a little too much like “boys will be boys” to me. I got the feeling that Eddie’s story, Sam’s attacker, was supposed to parallel Sal’s. So he goes through his “violent phase” and then comes out the other side all better and ready to apologize to Sam.
Okay. Except that in his violent phase, he attempted to rape someone. This is not something that should be swept under the rug and portrayed as just part of growing up. Topics like these deserve a lot more attention and it kind of shocks me that an author that generally takes his time exploring so many sensitive topics gave sexual assault this treatment.
More than anything, I think this book took on too much and several of the themes that were brought up should have either been left out or given more care. Stop trying to hard and just go back to the amazing-ness of earlier books.