The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, would probably be classified as a young adult coming of age novel although, as someone who normally has a strong disliking for books targeted towards teenagers, I feel slightly guilty having to call it that. It’s about a boy named Salvador Silva who thinks he knows who he is, but when someone insults his father and he reacts violently, he starts to spiral into uncertainty. That being said, it is not about an emotionally stunted teenager who goes around punching people because he’s frustrated with his life. This book is about confusion, grief, and love of all kinds.
Alire Sáenz has quite an interesting writing style–one that I’m quite fond of. It seems effortless and doesn’t have to drag you through the mud to get to the point it is trying to make. The book is written in the first person, from the protagonist’s perspective, placing emphasis on what Salvador is thinking and feeling in each situation. This allows room for more character growth and means that his emotions and sensitivity aren’t just swept under the rug. It also makes it a faster read as there isn’t very much time taken up describing the physical world.
While I didn’t have a problem with the pacing of this book and thought that the plot was sufficiently engaging, if you have a hard time staying absorbed in books I could see a problem arising. It’s all a matter of personal preference. If your a fan of action packed plots full of incredibly high stakes and life or death situations, this might not be the book for you. Large portions of the book are dedicated to self reflection and character development. As someone who loves character-driven plots, I was delighted, but that’s not something everyone is interested in.
That being said, I think that anyone can appreciate the well-crafted characters in this book. It was certainly my favourite part. All the characters are developed convincingly, as well as being diverse. This is rather refreshing for anyone who is tired of straight, white, strangely attractive and yet somehow still incredibly average characters who avoid any and all emotions like the plague. In this book, Salvador was adopted when he was a child, and his father is both a strong character and emotionally intelligent. His dad also happens to be gay. Sal’s best friend is a girl named Sam that he loves with all his heart and yet he has absolutely no romantic interest in her. As Salvador says, It’s not “the usual love story. But it [is] a love story.” Characters of the opposite sex in a completely platonic relationship? Who would have thought? Another friend of theirs, Fito, works two jobs and doesn’t have the best home life and yet he is one of the most kind and intelligent characters in the entire book. Characters initially thought to be mildly suspicious are not immediately condemned to be somehow insidious; instead, they actually grow into characters you care about. All of the relationships between these characters are both refreshing and heartwarming, and the author doesn’t shy away from non-romantic love.
With the help of these characters, Alire Sáenz explores some compelling themes throughout the book. One idea that comes up is that of nature vs nurture. Because he is adopted, Salvador starts to wonder which is more important, “the genetic characteristics [he] got from [his] biological father or the characteristics [he] acquired from [his] father, the man who raised [him].” Salvador is worried that he has inherited some violent tendencies from his biological father and is constantly trying to differentiate between the two. The book also discusses feelings of loss and grief, as well as how people deal with them. It specifically talks about learning how to “whistle in the dark.” The general idea behind this is that “when you [find] yourself in the dark, you might as well whistle.” It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, so learning to continue to be happy, even when you have cause to be sad, is important.
While not all of the ideas in this book start as necessarily the most original, they are presented in a very unique way. I find that most teen books end up being extremely melodramatic romances sprinkled with angst and feature problems like “Oh no, which of the these incredibly gorgeous men will I choose?” and “Oh no, the entire government is corrupt and I, a moody teenager, must single-handedly dismantle it.” and not much in between. Instead, here and in his other book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz creates an authentic universe, one populated by realistically diverse people and mercifully void of love triangles.
While the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” has been so overused that it has been drained of most of its worth, it certainly does apply to this book. On the outside, it looks like every YA novel about a teenage girl who has to navigate all of her raging hormones, as well as all the weird sexual tension she has with her two male best friends. Had I not already read Aristotle and Dante, there there would be no conceivable situation in which I would have picked this book up. Thankfully I decided to trust that the author wouldn’t resort to that, and ended up with a story that talks about loss, grief and “[learning] to bend to the inexplicable logic of [your] life”. While someone who has their life entirely figured out might find this book inconsequential and naive, for the rest of us that are still a complete mess, it can be rather comforting. It handles its themes with maturity and doesn’t pander to the stereotype of what youth will enjoy. I would recommend this book to people who are tired of stereotypical YA fiction and are willing to admit that they don’t have their life figured out.