When he was little, Sáenz couldn't decide if he wanted to be a painter or a writer. But he knew he wanted to be an artist of some sort, and that he is!
Even though Sáenz's relationship with his mother was incredibly close, many of his books focus more on relationships with fathers. They also explore male friendships, diving into an open, almost raw dialogue and intimacy between young men that's quite unique, awakening questions about identity, emotions and truth.
He Forgot to Say Good-bye introduces Ramiro, otherwise known as Ram. He's named after his father, which he hates, because it feels like he's named after a ghost. (His father disappeared one night and never came back.) Other parts of the book focus on the story of Jake, who's taunted by his last name (“Upthegrove! What kind of name is that?”) Together, Ram and Jake find that wounds of the past can be healed with time.
Sáenz uses magical, poetic language to bring Ari and Dante to life in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. This novel focuses on how teens often have a tendency to blame their problems on their parents and how young men, in particular, develop angry feelings that are often difficult to handle. Ari and Dante come around to realizing that if they're willing to look a little deeper, perspective, friendship and family can change their lives.
Sáenz's most recent novel, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, is much like his earlier novels in that it's driven by characters rather than the plot. The likeable, or rather, loveable main character, Sal, is trying to figure out who he is. His mother left him as an infant with her gay friend, Vicente, who he considers a wonderful father. Still, Sal can't help doubting his identity when he finds out the most important living blood relative (his grandmother, Mima) is dying.
Sáenz crafts extraordinary stories that are quiet and important reflections on humanity—our flaws and beautiful perfections. I'll admit that each novel has a quality of slow pacing, which might tempt you to get distracted and put it down but, trust me, being patient and persistent will pay off. These novels will have a lasting, satisfying impact.