The Thousand Natural Shocks
In a compelling debut, Sáenz offers a clever coming-of-age period piece primarily set in 1979. At 13, Charles Siskin already knows that he's gay. Hoping to improve on "the daily tortures and humiliations of middle school," he starts his freshman year of high school at St. Ignatius Loyola, an all-boys Catholic military institution. He soon becomes an outcast; his only friends are fellow misfits, like Stuart, who lisps, and Phaedre, a student from the girls' school across the street. As Charles is tormented by homophobes and bullies, he explores his newfound gifts of creative writing and acting, winning a key role in a production of Hamlet. Likewise, he slowly explores his sexuality, leading to some awkward, even regrettable moments. When the bullies take things too far, Charles's inner strength is sorely tested. Incorporating vocabulary footnotes and whimsical New Yorker–style spot cartoons, Charles's story unfolds with sensitivity and humor, a wry tongue-in-cheek self-awareness letting his voice leap off the page. The book abruptly closes on a positive if inconclusive note, followed by an epilogue set eight years later. Ages 12–18.