Salvador Silva is just starting senior year at high school and finds that his comfortable life is about to be disrupted both externally and internally. His grandmother, Mima, is dying of cancer, his best friend Sam is having difficulties with her mother, and his other good friend, Fito, is having even worse family troubles. And then Sal himself is feeling different – he punches a kid and then another, which is so not how he has been brought up.
There are some traditional and non-traditional families in this book and a lot of dead mothers. A lot. Sal himself is a white boy who was adopted by Vicente, a gay Mexican American, after his mother died when he was three. He doesn’t know who his birth father is and begins to suspect that these aggressive feelings must come from him. Vicente gives him a letter from his mother but Sal doesn’t feel quite ready to open it yet.
Vicente is the sort of saint-like parent that you only get in novels (or at least I don’t know any of them, myself included). He has sacrificed his life for Sal and always has the right thing to say or do, no matter how difficult the problem. When a boyfriend from the past returns, the family is expanded as Marcos turns out to be similarly saintly.
There’s also the sibling bonds that Sal has created with Sam and, tentatively, with Fito, both Latinx. Sam is smart and confident but is fractured by her relationship with her mother, and unusually for a YA novel, her feelings for Sal stay at a sisterly level. Fito is also smart but because of his family dynamics, he feels worthless and that he deserves nothing.
The writing is easy but precise, short chapters often punctuated with text conversations. The author creates a warm, loving family even if it is not traditional. Sal has his moments, but the reader knows that with the loving support he gets from his father, relatives, and friends – all of whom make up his family – he’s going to be ok.