I am a fully-motivated and crazy reader of avid proportions. A book is always at the ready no matter where I am, usually a fantasy of some kind or contemporary. (Nie zu viele Bücher!)
I do like and appreciate what Sáenz presents in this novel, and the writing style holds down a nice sense of prose blended with poetic flair and metaphor. At the same time, this story doesn’t grip me—and I mean really, truly grip me—the way other books do. I’m talking about books like There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Those are books that captivate my attention and emotions and seizes them very firmly. What I’m saying is this: Sáenz has what I believe to be a good and powerful story (especially for the YA audience—ages 15/16 and up, though depending on maturity level), but it’s not a story I fully connect to. And to be honest, I don’t think I allowed myself to fully connect. I didn’t want to.
Zach’s story is not something I was able to read through in one sitting, or even split into chunks over several days. When I first started reading, I took a week-long break before holding it in my hands again and greeted its text. I think Sáenz does an exemplary job at relaying a proper sadness, anger, anxiety, and even confusion in relation to Zach’s history, but this is what makes it difficult to read. I’ve read stories, both fiction and non-fiction alike, that range in subject matter from sexual abuse, addiction, death, murder… they’re mood dampeners, right? Even watching news can be depressive.
I swear, my local news has reported three child deaths and several adult deaths this week with enough sad detail to make me say, “Enough!” I don’t want to watch the news anymore, and I had a similar reaction to Last Night I Sang to the Monster.
Unlike other stories I have read with similar topics, Sáenz's writing effectively altered my mood sate. In other stories, I’ve read and thought, “Jesus, how horrible,” and then I sympathize. However, this story actually latched on to me and dragged my mood lower, lower, and lower for most of its length. There is a lot of gloomy text to march through, and it wasn’t until Zach took a little more interest in his environment that I became genuinely curious about other characters (e.g., What are their stories? What will happen to them? and so on). Soon after, I found myself turning pages just hoping I could finally piece together what happened to Zach—something he doesn’t remember or want to remember.
What bothered me was forcing myself to read through Zach’s refusal to even try to remember. Even though repressing his memory and not wanting to remember are both understandable and realistic, I felt like I was sifting through repetitive “I’m sad/upset/leave me alone/God, I need some bourbon” statements. In a way, this gives a full picture that’s necessary in comprehending Zach’s complexity of character and emotion—to understand why he is the way he is without making undue judgment from an outsider’s perspective.
Something happened to Zach, something tragic. I can’t give away what that something is, but when repressed memories and tragic events are involved, it is not likely that an individual will suddenly have a “Great, great! Remembering is fantastic!” moment. It’s a slow, laborious process, and readers journey in baby steps alongside Zach’s progressive course. As a result from this “progressive course,” it is promising to watch Zach learn how to trust and form relationships all the while slowly allowing his barrier to crumble.
Stories like Zach’s are not only sad to read about, but to think about, and they often do not end well. Sáenz, with admirable lyrical quality, shows that these stories do not always have to meet lamentable endings. Given, however, the right set of support and assistance—which, I think, is rare to come by compared to a general survey of outcomes. Regardless, it’s a great showcase of how a damaged, broken individual can face the odds and find inner-strength to plow through hourly struggles. Literally. Every day is a struggle—every hour, every minute, can feel like hell.
For me, and generally speaking, this story is a great example of facing your “monster” and digging deep to find a will to fight and change. Discovering a new-found sense of will means realizing I do want to live despite the suffering and excruciating hurt that has inflicted life-long damage. While emotional and mental scarring may never completely heal, it’s a matter of perspective and how willing a person is to accept what has occurred and “make the best of it” (so to speak). However, there is a lot more when looking at the specifics to Zach’s story, yet I hesitate to talk about it. (I would hate to spoil anything!)
All in all: well-written example of an injured character’s journey toward recovery. Ultimately, this story bestows awareness, understanding, and, I believe, inspiration and hope. If you’re up for handling a dismal climate, I do recommend this book. (Though you may want to consider some lighter material to balance it out—I certainly did.)