“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Last Night I Sang to the Monster • YA fiction

Last Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
September 2009 •  Cinco Puntos Press •  Ages 14 and up
"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." -- Linda Sue Park, winner of the Newbery Medal for A Single Shard

Story:  Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic, and he’s is in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad.
 I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.
Story behind the story:  Sáenz is the author of two highly praised young adult novels, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood and He Forgot to Say Goodbye, and with Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Sáenz continues exploring the lives of young men in the most difficult of circumstances. He's received the Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the Lannan Fellowship and an American Book Award and has taught at the University of Texas at El Paso for the past twenty years; Benjamin Alire Sáenz lives, writes, loves, hates and breathes on the U.S. / Mexico border.

John Byrd, from Cinco Puntos Press, writes:  "I’ve read Last Night I Sang to the Monster a number of times in the editing process. Even after these repeated readings, I am surprised at the sense of calm that comes as I read this book. I’m surprised because this isn’t an easy book. Last Night tells the story of Zach, an alcoholic, a senior in high school. Only he’s not in high school, he’s in a rehab center and he doesn’t remember how he got there. He is pretty sure that he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t know if he has anywhere else to go. And the thing that he is being asked to remember is so horrible, he’s afraid it will kill him if he so much as tries, so he doesn’t try. He doesn’t want to remember, ever. It’s the sort of story that you wish wasn’t possible, had never happened....But it does happen. Benjamin’s book won’t change that. But his compassion creates a road to a place where recovery and healing can take place. That’s when Zach is finally able to sing to the monster."


"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." -- Matt de la Peña

"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." -- Linda Sue Park

"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." —STARRED REVIEW, School Library Journal

"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." -- KIRKUS REVIEWS

"…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".-- BOOKLIST

Meet Benjamin Alire Sáenz in this video as he reads from LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER.

And read an interview with the author from School Library Journal.

FYI:  all the review copies for this book have been sent; please check back and click on the comments link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Linda said...

This was one of the best YA books I have read. Although it is written for YA, any adult would find the work fascinating. It takes the world of an 18 year old alcoholic and opens it up--nothing hidden, but not written in a preachy manner. The ending...well, you have to read it. I give it a 5 out of 5. A+ definitely.

Dawn said...

I started that last night and although the profanity and the situation makes it a hard read, the language is beautiful and it seems like it will be a definite 5!

Dawn said...

Zach is a senior in high school. He gets straight A's. He is a victim of his brother's frequent violence and neglected by his mom and dad. And he drinks bourbon. Alot. Zach is also in a drug and alcohol rehab center with no idea how he got there. Adam, his therapist, tries to get Zach to tell him what happened, but it hurts too much to try to remember. All Zach knows is that God wrote 'sad' on his heart and there seems to be no way to change it. But Zach has a friend, a father figure, a fellow addict, whose story seems to echo his own. And perhaps that friendship and therapy and time can help him confront and conquer the past before it destroys him.

This was one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. There is much profanity. Zach has an unbelievably sad life. In spite of that, the whole book has a hopeful tone and you must read till you come to the end of Zach's story. The language is gorgeous. I don't normally read sad books but once I started on this one, I couldn't stop till I came to the final page.

I see students everyday who also perhaps have 'sad' written on their hearts. They cover it up with behavior issues and substance abuse. Perhaps if they can read Zach's story, it will give them a hope for the future, that they do not have to continue down self-destructive path that they have been walking.

This IS a definite 5!

Julia Pitau said...

Benjamin Sáenz has a strong and intense story to tell in Last Night I Sang to the Monster. However, written with short, choppy sentences and repetitive verbs and adjectives, I found myself asking Sáenz to get on with the story. There were also many, many tragedies in this story. So many, that I almost quit caring about the characters. This could be a fantastic story with a few adjustments in the editing process and please, cut back on the “f” word. Yes, it probably is used often in the teen world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be shoved in my face.

In listening to a couple of my colleagues talk about this book, they too, wanted the author to stop being so repetitive.

Because I think this book as potential, I give it a Picnic Rating of 2.

Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

ahslibrarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ahslibrarian said...

Last Night I Sang to the Monster offers an inside view of the many demons, doubts, and desires that accompanies the many forms of addiction. As a result, it is not always a pretty story, and it is filled with images and language that may scare many of us.
The story of Zack and his monster presents a reality that many students and adults face every day; they are trying to accommodate the past into the present. In a more universal sense, the work poses large questions about God, love, family that belong to each of us.
From a technical standpoint, I was not always engaged by the text, but it does move quickly and I soon was back into the flow feeling that my time away from the text was time well spent in introspection. I was both surprised and pleased with the ending in that it gave the reader a somewhat final message about the nature of addiction (Sorry, no spoiler) .
High school students will want to have this book made available to them. A prominent location combined with the cover art and the topic will cause the book to circulate. Add this book to the collection with confidence and be prepared for a heavy demand.
4 out of 5
John Parker
Media coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901

Tara said...

There is a space between living and dying. Zach Gonzalez is living there. This space, in which he barely exists, is the holding place for those who are surviving out of gut instinct. The basic biological drive to live has taken over for Zach but that is all living represents when we first meet him at a rehab center for addicts and trauma victims. 18-year-old Zach has no memory of the events leading to his placement at the rehab center, nor does he want to. The one fight that Zach truly has left in him is against his memory. Remembering hurts and it brings out the monsters. Despite his strong desire to keep his monsters at bay, they find him in his sleep. They pick away at him, taunting him with the movie of his life, forcing him to feel.

Zach’s life story, both past and present, unfolds throughout his time at the rehab center. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s writing is crisp and poetic. The characters of Zach, Rafael and Sharkey are so rich you almost forget they aren’t real. The life stories of the characters are as gritty as they are beautiful, as terrifying as they are hopeful. Saenz doesn’t shy away from giving his readers an authentic view of the inner world of people fighting down their monsters.

5 out of 5.

Sandra Stiles said...

This is a book that I think should be on the shelf in every high school. I teach middle school and based on the type of kids I deal with it will be an asset to my shelves. This was one author not afraid to tackle one of those subject areas that are often pushed under the carpet. I have known many middle school student who are alcoholics or are dealing with their own demons. How many kids do we see just like Zach that we turn our backs on? I am tired of hearing people say not to write things like this because it might give kids ideas. Please let us give kids ideas that these addictions and situations do exist and there is hope for them. I applaud the author for not shying aways from such realistic characters and situations. I gladly give this a 5 and put it on my shelf.

Danielle said...

"Last Night I Sang to the Monster" was a very well written book. The characters were portrayed realistically and readers will be able to sympathize with Zach. His story is not a pretty one, but unfortunately, many teens will be able to relate to different aspects of his life. The ending might be a bit too pat, but it's one that I'll admit as a reader I was hoping for. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

Carrie said...

This book was excellent. Very well written in the language a teen would use. The book captured me from page one. I ended the book wanting more. Definately written for older young adults. Well worth the time to read and an engaging read. Most certainly a 5 out of 5

Lemon the Duck said...

The author's message was so important and clear. This is a story worth telling but I found the telling part not very engaging.
Zach is a very deep thinker, but a little too deep in my opinion.
I found the text and character's thoughts repetitive to the point of distraction and I needed to force myself to stay engaged.
I rate this book a 2 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School

loonyhiker said...

This is a very strong and moving book. Many students who are faced with alcohol problems would find this book motivating and inspiring. I think it would be helpful for them to know that they are not alone. At first I was a little unsure about how I would like this book but then once I got into it, I felt drawn into the main character. He couldn’t remember why he was in this place and each page led you closer to the events that led him here. As I read, I realized what a complicated character this was and I watched him change as I read the book. This would be a good book for high school students who are struggling with many of the same issues such as addictions and isolation. The profanity in the book was a little strong for this to be used in the classroom but I could see students reading this on their own. I would give this book a 4 out of 5.
Pat Hensley
Greenville, SC

jlarkin said...

I just finished Last Night I Sang to the Monster and I really enjoyed it. Zach, the main character, tells us a fragmented story as he attempts to put his life back together. We meet Zach inside a treatment center as he battles alcohol addiction. We also meet many other interesting addicts - especially Rafael and Sharkey. But Zach's story is different, as he doesn't remember how he got to the treatment center - what happened that finally set him over the edge?

The beginning of the story was slow going - I had a hard time connecting with Zach. The story was very choppy and his expressions just became repetitive and boring. But as each character told their story during therapy, and as we learned more about Zach, I really became attached and cared about what happened to each of them. Like Zach, I was upset when Sharkey left and cried along with him at certain key points in this story. I loved the character of Adam and how he was such a positive character in the story.

Definite 4 out of 5 - thanks to Benjamin Alire Saenz for a great story of addiction, battling addiction, and survival.

Anonymous said...

I found this book to be a page turner. I reminded me a lot of Moster by: Walter Dean Myers and the Crank series by Ellen Hopkins. This book was written for high school students. I enjoyed the relationships between the characters. The other did a nice job getting the strong feelings of the characters across to the reader. My 21 year old son is excited about reading this book. I would give this a 5 out of 5 in my basket.

juli said...

Gritty. Honest. Hopeful. Sad. Truthful. Terrifying.

These are just some of the words that came to my mind as I finished reading "Last Night....." I feel this book will truly resonate with the yound adults that it was wriiten for. Yes, there is much profanity and repetition, but that is also what will keep middle schoolers and high schoolers reading.

This past Thursday, I sat in on an 8th grade boys book club (during their lunch!) that just finished reading a book about young men given the death penalty as teenagers. The discussion was amazing and they were all very much engaged with the characters and situations presented in the book. When asked if they wanted to do another book-it was a definite-YES-and they want real, honest, gritty, tough books. I am going to share this book with the team on Monday.

I give it a 5 out of 5!

Barbara Leitschuh said...

I seldom take time to read books that I can't put in my grade school library - I am glad I made time for this one! It is a unique story that pulled me in from page one and kept me hopeful that Zach would survive and overcome his monsters. A very emotional read that would appeal to adults of all ages. I give it a 5!

Mrs. Horne said...

Wow, this was one intense novel. The issue of alcoholism in young adults is more prevalent than we'd like to think and this novel tells a story that touches the readers heart.

What I liked most about this novel was how "real" it felt. In order for a story to reach the reader you must feel like you are right there with Zach, experiencing his ups and downs and this novel did this beautifully. I wouldn't put this on my middle-school shelves, but highly recommend it for high-school and up.

Rating: 5/5

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Kim Watson said...

I apologize for my late review, but I have been extremely busy the last couple of months - student teaching, the holidays, and applying for jobs. I just completed the book. This novel takes you on a gut wrenching journey through the mind of an addict and his determination to find sobriety. This book would be a great addition to a high school library. Students who stuggles with drug and alcohol addiction and peer pressure can relate to the main character and his feelings. Teachers and librarians should suggest this book to students who have similar issues (at home or within themselves). It is a wonderful realistic fiction novel that, hopefully, will change many lives.
Warning: explicit language
Rating: 5/5

cupcake said...

I read this book several months ago and have watched my students fight over reading it as part of their independent reading assignments.

This novel is emotionally draining, but it is magnificent. It broke my heart; very often while reading it, I would find myself sobbing for Zach, yet that's one of the aspects I most liked. He's not a cookie cutter character that we've seen before; he's unique and fully developed, as are most of his rehab pals. Adam is the most nebulous character - I would have liked to know more about him, yet at the same time, there is distance between him and us readers, much as there has to be some distance between him and his patients.

Yes, there is a lot of profanity, but here's a newsflash: teenagers use profanity. That's one of the reasons why he seemed to true to me.

What I like most about the book is its theme of needing to love yourself before you can accept love from others. Regardless of whether we have suffered the same tragedies as Zach, or whether we have been to rehab, nearly everyone has faced moments of self-loathing. Needing to accept ourselves as we are and love ourselves for it is one of the greatest challenges we will face, and I think that aspect is something teen readers appreciate about this book.

Picnic Basket Rating: 5

Carrie Blagg said...

First of all, I want to apologize for just now posting my review, but truth be told, I just finished the book. I started the book when I received it, only finishing it a week ago. The book was beautifully written, but for me it was emotionally draining.

I agree with previous reviews that the author was repetitive and the profanity was excessive, but we must keep in mind this was written as an 18-year-old addict telling his story. The author stayed true to his characters and realistic about addiction.

I give this book 5 out of 5.

Carrie Blagg, Libraian Assistant
Paradise Valley, AZ

Cheryl Vanatti said...

Better late than never! I give this one a PB rating of 4, but you can see my full review at Reading Rumpus

Cheryl Vanatti
Reading Specialist
Orlando, FL

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