I started reading this book Tuesday while the resident of the back bedroom was getting her hair done for back to school. I left the book behind at the salon but was not concerned since I knew I was going back there today for my own back to school treatment (gray banished for a few more weeks). I finished it this afternoon in one huge gulp of reading. I am wrung out.
Zach has had a hell of a life thus far. His mother is a agoraphobe whose behavior can be even more bizarre and disturbing. Dad is an alcoholic. And then there is Santiago, Zach's brother who brutalizes the entire family. Now Zach's life consists of Cabin 9 and lots of sessions with his therapist, Adam. Zach is here in residential treatment for events he has elected not to recall. Zach is almost philosophical about his situation (and that is part of what I admire about this novel: Zach is a brilliant and thoughtful kid even in his messed-up-edness). God, he muses, writes our natures on our hearts. On Zach's God has written SAD. What can he do about that? All those other words scribbled on pieces of paper are fluttering loose out of Zach's reach.
In this wholly original and absorbing novel, Saenz allows readers to accompany Zach on a journey of self discovery. There are missteps and stumbles along the way to be sure. However, there are good people who care about what has happened to Zach including his therapist Adam and some of the other residents of the facility. The imagery is astonishing, sometimes almost contradictory (storms in the desert); the language is beautifully wrought. Saenz has written about the darkest parts of our inner landscape; he permits us to see the light but it seems to be always at a distance. Can we walk into the light? Can new words be written on our hearts? Is redemption possible? A life affirming YES is the answer, but it does not come without price.