Book Title: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz Number of pages: 464
Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Adopted protagonist in a Mexican family who brings so much life to the page; themes of nature versus nurture
– Inexplicable lacks plot; is wholly character/dialogue driven
– Vicente is the best father figure in YA fiction you haven’t met
– Friendship/family driven; no romance plotline (love for love’s sake is more appropriate)
– Is extremely quotable
Guess who thought this book was Aristotle and Dante book #2? This guy.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Inexplicable Logic of My Life from Raincoast Books.
As a whole, this book delivers a nuanced punch of emotions brought forth by stellar familial dynamics, friendships thriving with candor, and societal issues underscoring life in America. Though there are underlying issues that remain underdeveloped, I did find that this story accomplished what it set out to achieve; the caveat being that Inexplicable wholly lacks a plot. I guess you have to be on board with it being dialogue and character driven; else I would imagine it’s a drag.
Inexplicable takes place in a few locations that, for what it’s worth, although isn’t incredibly detailed in contemporary world building, there’s a very homely feel to it that breathes with so much culture and life. This is most true when readers step inside the world of Sal’s Mexican found-family environment as he tackles an introspective conflict between nature versus nurture.
The issue is that because the majority of the story unfolds within an indoor capacity, scenes need to be widely written and nuanced enough to feel interesting to the reader. While dialogue does go a long way to carry the story to not have to be concerned with establishing relevant and interesting infrastructures, it remains a concern that the imagery largely pulls from what we know and it can read a bit monotonous at times as it’s not explicit and canon world building.
But truth be told, I was okay with how the setting developed. It felt justified.
My real issue is that by glossing over how some aspects of the world is fleshed out, it also dilutes the importance of the point being made. For one, the school setting has this omnipresent importance to the story but that particular narrative thread rarely happens directly on the page unless it’s to promote bullying and those antagonistic archetypes. This may be a stylistic choice in pacing to gloss over the mundanity of going to school but because there was so much discussion as to academics, studying, etc., developing scenes at the school (sans school bully antics) would have objectively added a bit more dimension to that story arc.
Although I can’t speak for the Mexican rep, I am glad that there is a place for it in this story that I can glimpse into that life, even if just for a moment.
Inexplicable deals with the struggles of living; be it internally derived or extraneous influences knocking on the everyday door.
As mentioned, one of the biggest issues I have with Inexplicable is the fact that so much happens more by telling the reader after the fact rather than letting us experience it ourselves. And of these pockets of time, the commentary made by the narrator/protagonist either disregards or lets a lot of issues slide by the protagonist. And if it was engaged, it didn’t necessary do much as to shift thinking — or at least it wasn’t compelling enough to go full out shift the paradigm. It’s nice that concerns were brought forward but I would have much enjoyed it if greater depth promoted the discussions as it related to sexuality and sexual interactions (re: attempted rape is patched up with a band-aid and Sal gets reprimanded for being “angry” with his fists, or anytime Sal made a dismissive comment about his own father’s sexuality).
Alternatively, there is so much shit that happens to the key characters — some more far-fetched than others — that I had to suspend some belief that the timing of said events within a couple months time frame was more catering to the need to incite drama than to have a fully realized and logistical conflict. They all kind of go through similar life-changing moments and that in itself is just made the plotting too easy.
That being said, Inexplicable is rife with quotes that read so sincere and tangibly effusive that it hit me. Not only that, the writing contains succinct sentences that are probably on the opposite spectrum of lyrical and beautiful prose, but, I kind of jived with it. I would provide quotes but that would certainly ruin the impact of them upon reading.
Stray comment #1: this What-If game that Sal and Sam creates follows a pattern in a lot of the early scenes…then the characters break their own rules of the same. Just thought I’d flag that.
Stray comment #2: the nomenclature of texting in this story bothered me (is that the right word?) not to mention texting while being in the same room. I get it buuuuut…
Because of Inexplicable, I have now discovered one of my favourite fatherly figures featured in young adult fiction. His name is Vicente, and before I gush about him, I need to bring up one concern that I can see prospective mixed criticisms for. Though he endures several struggles (re: love, alternative families, and death), he comes off the page as a genuine, stand-up mentor and a bit too “good” to be true. It’s great that comes off the page [for me] but the issue is inherently that he’s an outlier of a dad.
To which I will say that I found a lot of common qualities in Vicente with my experience growing up; which is what allowed me to appreciate how full and real he was presented. So if its of any consolation, the character framework of this particular dad is, for me, well represented. (And in truth, is what inflates this Character Rating so high.)
Sal’s best friend Sam is a bit of a mixed grab-bag of concerns. Although I really appreciate her growth throughout the story, it was definitely a struggle to get to where she had to go. It’s great that there’s a full representation of a character — that for all the faults you carry, there are still redeemable qualities — but some of her growth felt…hollow for me (maybe disingenuous even). And for her to be one of the sole young female characters in the story, I’m not sure if her representation was justified as she comes off as girl-hating.
Salvatore is such a cinnamon roll of a good guy that he’s just a stand up guy. The entirety of Inexplicable concerns Sal’s struggle in his discovery of his family by-blood and by-choice, all while dealing with grief in all its forms. I don’t know what else to say; he’s a solid guy who learns that words hold as much meaning as his fists. He lives and he learns; that’s all I can ask.
Also: the love in this story isn’t romantic. It’s love for friendships and family and oneself.
The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz hits a home-run in dialogue and being quotable in the inspirational and uplifting sense. The story features a Mexican family that comes alive off the page and delivers a one-two punch of poignancy as it delves into the adoptive found-family narrative. It is a story that is grounded in the present even if some scenes were not rounded out in delivery. Most importantly, Inexplicable brings to life Vicente, who is probably one of the best representations of a fatherly figure that I could personally relate to.
I don’t think my rating justifies how much I actually did enjoy this story (damn attempt at being objective).
Excerpt from the book:
Finally Fito reached for the box. He opened it really, really slowly, and then he just stared at it. He didn’t say anything. He just stared. He looked up and Sam and me. “You got me an iPhone? An iPhone? Wow! Wow! Man oh man.” Then he got real quiet. “Look, guys…Man, I can’t take this. Man, this is just way too nice. I can’t take this. I mean, I can’t.”
Sam gave him one of those looks. “Yeah, you can.”
“See, I just can’t because, you know, I mean, it’s like—”
“Just take it,” I said. “You need a phone, you know.”
I looked up and noticed my father had been watching us.
“Yeah, but I was gonna get one at Walmart for like sixty bucks. You know, just like the one that died.” Then Fito kept shaking his head. “Look, I’m really sorry. But I just can’t take this. It’s not right.
My dad took a seat at the table. He took the iPhone out of its fancy white box. He held it in his hand. “These things are really light these days.” Then he said, “You like baseball, Fito?”
“Yeah, I love baseball.”
“You know, Fito, some people are born believing things belong to them. My father used to say, Some people are born on third base and they go through life thinking they hit a triple.”
Fito laughed. “I like that.”
My dad nodded. “Yeah. Fito, you’re not one of those people. A guy like you was born in the locker room, and no one ever pointed you in the direction of the baseball diamond. And somehow you managed to get yourself into the dugout. And something in you just doesn’t believe he belongs in the game. But you do, you do belong in the game. Anyway, that’s what I think.”