I’ve decided that Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author I want to read absolutely all of. He is the author of ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ and ‘The Inexplicable Logic of My Life,’ two favorites of mine.
Before reading Aristotle and Dante I had never heard of this author, but there was just something about the way he used words to unwind the left over knots of teenage angst I didn’t know I was still carrying with me…oh boy! Benjamin! You have won my heart! But this isn’t about Ari and Dante, I will have to come back with a separate post dedicated solely to that book. Just know that because of how moved I was by that book, and by ‘The Inexplicable Logic of My Life,’ I trust that I will not only enjoy, but love, anything by Sáenz.
So… I took to Goodreads and added more of his books to my to-read list, and made sure to grab one of the books from my library. But then…’He Forgot to Say Goodbye’ sat on my shelf at home for way too long, about three weeks, before I finally decided to get it read before it was due back. Turns out I’ve been in a fantasy sort of reading mood. Well, after a sleepless night had me listen to… you guessed it… ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ for the thousandth time, I was ready to give this a go.
My doggies helped. Not really. But look how cute they are keeping me company while I read:
In this story we get to hear from Jake- a rich white kid, and Ramiro (Remi)- a poor Mexican-American teenager. Their lives are very different, but they are both effected by the absences of their fathers, who walked away from their young sons and never really looked back. The boys attend neighboring schools and have seen each other around, but neither really knows anything at all about the other except that they seem pretty okay. Eventually their paths cross, they develop a friendship, and they support each other at particularly difficult times in their lives.
I was afraid I wasn’t going to fall in love with it at first. The format was strange in the way that it switched points of view, and that the two narratives didn’t really come together for most of the book. Every once in a while they would relate two sides of the same scene, and I’d have to pause and reconsider the timeline as it relates to both sides of the story. It’s something that is done in books often enough that it wasn’t too big of a turn off once I got a little ways into it.
For maybe a quarter of the book (maybe less, I don’t really know), I wasn’t sure I was going to fall in love with the protagonists they way I had with just about every single character in both of Sáenz other books that I’d read. Jake and Remi felt more like rough drafts of Ari and Sally. I would actually read something and smile to myself, thinking about how Ari was the same way… Salvador went through the same thing. I found myself thinking of this as a trial run. Eventually I was able to appreciate Jake and Remi as real characters, not shadows of future characters, and I grew to love them, too.
As much as I love the way Sáenz writes… as beautiful as I find his prose to be… there are some phrases he uses that just don’t flow well. In Aristotle and Dante, Dante says “Damn it, Ari. Damn it to hell,” on more than one occasion if I’m not mistaken, and I have to stop and think… what teenager says the phrase “Damn it to hell?” Well, in ‘He Forgot to Say Goodbye’ Jake says “Can you dig it?” so often that it drove me bananas! “Can you dig it?” “You can dig that, can’t you?” NO, JAKE. NO. Put the shovel down. No one is digging anything. Who says that? Just no.
But in the end, I forgive the cringe worthy phrase because of how well the rest is written. Like his more recent novels, this was a very character driven book in which your emotional connection to the protagonists takes precedence over the progression of the plot. I understand this is not for everyone, but Sáenz pulls it off in my opinion.
I gave this book four stars on Goodreads. I want to note that my star ratings are very subjective and emotionally biased. I will post about how I assign star ratings some other time, once I understand it a little better myself.