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Last Night I Sang to the Monster

School Library Journal 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
"This is a powerful and edifying look into both a tortured psyche and the methods by which it can be healed."
"Gr 9 Up–At 18, Zach finds himself in a therapeutic residential program as both an alcoholic and a post-traumatic-stress patient. In evocative and compelling language, Sáenz allows an at-first barely articulate, almost amnesiac Zach to show his progress toward remembering and integrating his past into a present with which he can cope. He is guided along the way by a sympathetic and wise therapist, a middle-aged roommate whose own recovery is on an arc ahead of the youth’s, and several credible and interesting minor characters. The techniques and realities of such a facility are realistic and fully drawn: addicts who gather for cigarettes, nightmares, group sessions, breathing therapy. Sáenz weaves together Zach’s past, present, and changing disposition toward his future with stylistic grace and emotional insight.

This is a powerful and edifying look into both a tortured psyche and the methods by which it can be healed."
- September 15, 2009 
Publishers Weekly 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
"Offering insight into addiction, dysfunction and mental illness, particularly in the wake of traumatic events, Sáenz’s...artful rendition of the healing process will not soon be forgotten."
"'I don’t like remembering. Remembering makes me feel things. I don’t like feeling things,' writes Zach as a homework assignment from his therapist at the outset of this psychologically intense novel. Tracing 18-year-old Zach’s somewhat disjointed but utterly candid monologue during his stint at an institution, readers will feel his fear as he remembers the events leading to his hospitalization and meet his 'monster,' the unnamed force that appears in his dreams. But breaking through the chaos of Zach’s internal world are two remarkable individuals: his fatherly roommate, Rafael, and therapist, Adam, whose determination to make Zach whole again never falters. Zach’s progress advances in small steps, and there are plenty of setbacks. Fellow patients who have become his friends leave suddenly, and the sadness of other lost souls is nearly too much for Zach. However, the good that comes from his struggles far outweighs the dark moments.

Offering insight into addiction, dysfunction and mental illness, particularly in the wake of traumatic events, Sáenz’s (He Forgot to Say Goodbye) artful rendition of the healing process will not soon be forgotten. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)"
- September 28, 2009 
Kirkus Reviews
"...a celebration of life and a song of hope in celebration of family and friendship, one that will resonate loud and long with teens."
"Zach is full of words: An artist lives inside him. He loves reading, and some time ago he wished to be a good student, but now he only knows silence. Zach is brilliant, but he is confused, lonely and hopeless. He did not choose his alcoholic father, his depressive mother and his abusive brother. He wanted to escape from a house that was not a home anymore, from the monster that appears in his dreams, from his memories, nightmares and imaginary conversations.

One day Zach wakes up in Cabin 9, bed 3, at a rehabilitation center. He does not want to remember how he got there; he just wants to forget. Zach's first-person voice is compelling and heartbreaking. Sáenz' poetic narrative will captivate readers from the first sentence to the last paragraph of this beautifully written novel, which explores the painful journey of an adolescent through the labyrinth of addiction and alcoholism.

It is also a celebration of life and a song of hope in celebration of family and friendship, one that will resonate loud and long with teens. (Fiction. YA)"
- August 15, 2009 
Booklist
"…there is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records in this heartfelt account of healing and hope."
"At 18, Zach can only remember little pieces of his past life. This is partly due to the alcohol abuse that has landed him in a rehab facility. But it is, in larger part, due to something so terrible having happened to him that he has repressed his memories of it. In the process it has become like a monster inside him, so frightful he can’t expel it by himself.

Fortunately he finds two caring adults—his therapist, Adam, and his roommate (and fellow alcoholic), Rafael—who struggle to help him with the work of remembering and recovering.

There is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records in this heartfelt account of healing and hope."
- September 15, 2009 
Matt de la Peña
"Benjamin Alire Saenz’s new novel is a gift of honesty and poetry and heart."
"Benjamin Alire Saenz’s new novel is a gift of honesty and poetry and heart. Zach is a beautiful young man who desperately wants to forget the unforgettable. In order to deal with his addiction he must first deal with his lost childhood.

Saenz has created one of the most unique and heartfelt friendships I’ve ever encountered in literature, and it’s through this friendship that Zach ultimately discovers his voice. This novel sang to me from the opening page and never once hit a false note."
- March 26, 2009 
Linda Sue Park, author of When My Name was Keoko
I cried with Zach all the way through this book: tears of rage and sorrow—sometimes laughing—and finally, tears of hope and joy. Thanks to Ben Saenz’ pitch-perfect writing, Zach will stay in my heart for a long time.
El Paso Times
"Benjamin Alire Sáenz's most devastating and exquisite novel to date."
"Benjamin Alire Sáenz novel follows climb out of despair

'I've lived eighteen years in the season of sadness where the weather never changed,' says the protagonist, from the deep well of his isolation, in Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos Press, $19.95 hardcover), Benjamin Alire Sáenz's most devastating and exquisite novel to date.

Zachariah Johnson Gonzalez — Zach to his friends — is the son of an alcoholic father and a manic-depressive mother 'who was allergic to the sky,' and with an older brother whose drug-induced rages inflicted fear and violence on the family. So it was only a matter of time before Zach ended up in a rehabilitation facility after a near-fatal drinking binge — his way of numbing the pain of witnessing the ills of his loved ones.

In 'trauma camp,' he's the therapist's most challenging patient. The path toward healing begins with the exploration of the past. Zach doesn't like to remember: 'Remembering makes me feel things. I don't like feelings things.' Instead, his sessions are hostile dialogues of evasion and disassociation from his emotions.

But weeks into such programs, even the toughest case can crack, and Zach slowly begins to realize that 'maybe living is supposed to be more than survival.'

The strength to overcoming his nightmares is fueled by interactions with his roommates in Cabin 9: Sharkey, a 27-year-old drug addict and smart aleck with a conflicted relationship with his parents, and Rafael, a 53-year-old alcoholic and child-abuse survivor coping with the loss of his son. These men become Zach's surrogate family, helping him reconnect with such sentiments as affection, sympathy and love.

But the greatest challenge is yet to come: taming the monster that pushes him toward the self-destructive act of forgetting. If he is to move on to the next stage of recovery, Zach must come to terms with a devastating personal tragedy that left him 'dead even though I was still alive.'

Sáenz, a writer of great skill and precision, reels the reader into a place of such personal sorrow without slipping into tearjerking sentimentality, though it's difficult not to respond with tears to Zach's hard-won rehabilitation.

The testimonies that come out during Zach's group therapy sessions are relentless but convincing portraits of humanity at its most vulnerable, and they prepare both the reader and Zach for the shocking revelations at the conclusion of his stay.

And to allow the dark prose further flecks of light, Sáenz has Zach collect the sensory details of his smallest pleasures — the therapist's green eyes, his high-school teacher's trumpet-playing, Rafael's lullaby — a happiness-building exercise that echoes the plot's shift from anxiety and grief to poetic justice and victory song.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster, with its impressive characterizations and heart-wrenching storyline, is the must-read novel of the year."
- September 12, 2009 
Library Media Connection
"Zach’s story as an alcoholic is a painful but positive reaffirmation of the human spirit."
Oneota Reading Journal
Sáenz does a wonderful job of painting Zach’s struggle while in a rehab center where the Zach fights his inner monster. This inspirational story can help middle to high school students learn about the beauty of life, hope, healing and family.
El Paso Scene
Last Night I Sang to the Monster will provide younger readers with reassurance that they are not alone in dealing with the demons of dysfunctional families and painful memories."

"This young adult novel comes with an impressive pedigree — written by one of El Paso’s best authors and published by the city’s award-winning small press. The story mostly takes place inside the mind of a 17-year-old who wakes up in a rehab center and doesn’t remember or even want to remember how he got there. We learn step by step about a depressed mom and an alcoholic dad. Zach’s journey to healing is guided by two caring older men — one a fellow alcoholic in rehab, the other a therapist with scars of his own.

This is the third young adult novel by Saenz, whose two earlier novels — Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood and He Forgot to Say Goodbye both received high honors and critical praise.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster will provide younger readers with reassurance that they are not alone in dealing with the demons of dysfunctional families and painful memories, and that even though adults may have let them down, others can help them up. Older readers may find this book a way both to engage the often painful memories of their own adolescence and also to listen more sensitively to those making their way through those turbulent years."
- Randy Limbird, June 28, 2011 

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