Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Last Night I Sang to the Monster--Benjamin Alire Saenz (book review)

The second I read Doret's review of this 2009 YA novel about a troubled 18-year-old young man in alcohol rehab, I knew I had to get my hands on it. My library was, as usual, happy to oblige. Thanks, library!

It wasn't quite what I expected, in some ways it was better. It took me a few chapters to adjust to the voice, there's a lot of repetition of particular phrases ("that tears me up," "I'm wigging out" and lots of talk about God writing words on people's hearts) and it drove me a little nuts in the beginning, seeming like an attempt to mimic/update Holden Caulfield's voice from The Catcher in the Rye. It's not. Saenz makes his purpose clear as Zach begins working on owning his feelings instead of using catch phrases to distance himself from them.

I also didn't expect Zach to be the only teen character. His high school friends are all in the past and only mentioned briefly. His cohorts at the rehab center are all older. These characters are so richly drawn, providing a deep background for Zach's journey from numb denial to a young man ready to remember his past so he can move forward into his future. Even the tree has personality. I'll let that tree, and Zach's 53-year-old roommate, Rafael, have the last word:
"See that tree?" It was a stubby cypress tree, all bent and twisted.

"Yeah, I see it."

"It's my favorite tree."

"It's not that great a tree," I said.

"That's it. That's exactly it. It's like me. The wind beat the holy crap out of it when it was just a sapling. Never could straighten itself out again." He sort of smiled at me. "But, Zach, it didn't die." He looked like maybe he wanted to cry. But he didn't. "It's alive."

"Maybe it should have just given up."

"That tree didn't know how to do that. It only knew how to live. Crooked. Bent. Taller trees dwarfing it even more. It just wanted to live. I named it, you know?"

He was waiting for me to ask what he'd named it--but I decided I didn't want to ask.

"Zach," he whispered. "The tree's name is Zach."[p. 135]


  1. Sounds very powerful! Thanks for the review.

  2. It sounds interesting, although without context (and with the mention of a 53 year old roommate) that quote sounds a little creepy, but that's just where my awful mind goes.

  3. This does sound powerful and sad, too.

  4. Thanks, Lenore and Kathy.

    Jodie, I can see where the word roommate would be misleading out of context. It's a rehab center, so roommates are assigned to them--most of the time, Zach rooms with two men, including the one quoted here. Sorry if it creeped you out!

  5. oh wow, what an amazing quote. This sounds like the perfect book for me. It looks familiar...I must have seen it recently. Maybe in the review you mentioned.


    I don't know if you entered the Holey Donuts giveaway or not, but if you could check out this post and do so for my blog, it would mean a TON for my family and you can enter for the book afterwards too if you wish (White Cat by Holly Black ARC)!:


  6. I have this now. I believe Doret reviewed it, too.


  7. Wow. Excellent review. I have a great library like that too.

  8. This is one of those books I appreciated more a few days after I finished it.

    I don't think there are enough YA books with male protagonist dealing with issues.

    I love that passage.