Monday, December 07, 2009

Riveting novel captures teen alcoholism with compassion and eloquence

Last Night I Sang to the Monster
Cinco Puntos Press, $16.95 hardcover
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Book Review by Daniel Olivas

Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos Press, $16.95 hardcover) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a young adult novel that centers on 18-year-old Zach who has entered a rehabilitation center but cannot remember how he got there. Told in the first person, the book begins: “Some people have dogs. Not me. I have a therapist. His name is Adam.” This sets the tone for Zach’s telling of his journey: he has a sharp intelligence and a sarcastic tongue even though he has hit bottom.

Zach shares a room with a revolving set of roommates all of whom must attend group therapy. The other men and women in the rehab center come in all ages, with various addictions and their own personal monsters. These monsters are some of the ugliest, scariest you could imagine, often taking the form of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Not all “clients” of the center make it -- they are free to leave if they wish because they are all technically adults -- and we wonder if Zach will be one of the strong, lucky ones who finishes the program. His major hurdle is trying to remember what brought him into rehab in the first place.

Due to language and subject matter, this novel is most appropriate for mature teens and adults. But with alcoholism and other addictions being so rampant with young people, it is a story that should not be ignored. Sáenz has created a truly enthralling and complex person in the character of Zach who struggles with his monster. This is a must-read novel.

◙ Award-winning writer Luis Alberto Urrea recently vented regarding the National Book Award's failure to recognize Latino/a writers. A sample of Urrea’s opinion:

Ah, another round of the wonderful National Book Award has come and gone. I was lucky enough to be a judge in the year Timothy Egan won for non-fiction. We judges got 750 books each--so many books, my little one built a fort with them. Yeah, I was a judge, but I've never been nominated.

No! Nope--no sour grapes. I might not have merited a nomination, let's face it. But not everybody gets in the running. For example, Latinos. They don't.

Oops. Did I say that? Did I say that NBA could mean "No Beaners Allowed"? (I can say "beaner," see, 'cause I was born in Tijuana.) Cinderella and I caused a minor fluff-up of feathers and attitudes over on Twitter when we noted this trend. But I thought it would be instructive to take a look at it. (People say, "But Junot was a judge this year!" Yeah, and neither Drown NOR Oscar Wao, everybody's favorite books, was a finalist in its year.)

Read the entire post here.

◙ Los Angeles artist, José Ramírez, will be having an open studio/holiday sale on Sunday, December 20, 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (or by appointment). The Ramírez Studio is located at 1136 Stone St., Los Angeles, CA 90063 (Phone: 323-377-4967). E-mail: Website (for information on this and future events):

◙ Writing for the Los Angeles Downtown News, Ryan Vaillancourt tells us about downtown’s own independent bookstore, Metropolis Books, 440 S. Main Street, Los Angeles 90013 (Phone: 213-612-0174). Vaillancourt profiles five authors who have or will read at this venue, including yours truly. Check it out and post a comment, too.

◙ I had a great time this Saturday doing a joint reading with Reyna Grande at Tía Chucha's Café Cultural in celebration of the fact that we both published new books within a few weeks of each other. Reyna read from her wonderful new novel, Dancing with Butterflies (Simon & Schuster), and I read from my new short story collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press). The Q&A afterwards was fun and interesting. Tía Chucha's has copies of our books as well as other selections for all ages. So, as you plan your gift list, don’t forget the gift of literature. Visit Tía Chucha's at 13197-A Gladstone Ave., Sylmar, CA 91342 (phone: 818-528-4511).

◙ Speaking of Reyna Grande, Reyna is calling for proposals and author presentations for next year's Latino Book Festival panel. The festival will be held at CSULA on October 9 & 10, 2010. If you're interested in participating, please contact Reyna Grande at with a description of the panel, a title, and possible panelists.

◙ The Latest on

A Green Immigration by Álvaro Huerta

The Remarkable Peter Perez by M. Reyna

Old Tradition Could Boost Latino Community's Economy by Andy Porras

Spotlight on the Brown: Hold that Tiger! by Frankie Firme

Latino Literature in the Everyday Language of Latinos by Mayra Calvani

◙ The Letras Latinas Blog continues to send dispatches from the Guadalajara International Book Fair including this wonderful "postcard" by Alex Espinoza, author of the acclaimed novel, Still Water Saints (Random House). This just in: Don't miss Reed Johnson's report of the book fair in today's Los Angeles Times...nicely done!

◙ That’s all for now. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

1 comment:

Mario Acevedo said...

I'm putting Benjamin's book on my Navidad wish list.