Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Last Night I Sang to the Monster (2009) is a powerful and heart wrenching story of a young man’s encounter with trauma and violence and his journey toward healing. Eighteen year old Zach wakes up in a rehabilitation center far from his home in El Paso, TX for what he think is his abuse of alcohol but in reality he cannot remember why he’s there or how he got there. Throughout the narrative, Zach reflects on moments in his life that might have led to his arrival at a rehabilitation center. His therapist/counselor, Adam, encourages him to remember the event that landed him at the center in order to be able to begin healing; however, the pain is too great and Zach remains emotionally stunted for much of the novel. At the center, Zach meets a diverse group of people that struggle with addiction and mental illness and he is forced to contend with his own struggles; however, his refusal to remember leaves him more vulnerable to pain. He meets an older man, Rafael, who is at the center seeking treatment for his alcoholism which worsened after the death of his son. Zach looks at Rafael as a father figure and in return Rafael provides advice and guidance for processing pain and trauma. Rafael shares with Zach that one of the ways to get the “monster” to stop hurting is to sing to it. When Rafael leaves the center, Zach is distraught and appears to be spiraling down again. Zach must learn to sing to the monster if he wishes to find healing and one day leave the center.
Last Night I Sang to the Monster is a beautiful novel. Through Saenz’s prose the reader is privy to Zach’s inner pain and struggle. Saenz’s captures the complex relationship between addiction and trauma in such a way that the reader cannot escape until we know that Zach will be ok. It is obvious through Zach’s memories that varying forms of violence have always been a part of his upbringing and it is once they culminate into a catastrophic event that he is forced to deal with it. The importance of remembering is palpable throughout the novel. As a reader, I begged Zach to remember so that I could understand why he’s at the rehabilitation center; however, as Zach recounted his story I felt that maybe remembering would be too painful. The reader’s investment in a character is a sign of an incredible author and remarkable story. Last Night addresses an abundance of issues ranging from alcoholism, abuse, and death to think about ways of healing and living otherwise. As a part of Latina/o young adult literature, Saenz’s novel stands out not only because of its wonderful prose but because the issue of addiction and its consequences on the self and on others is a conversation that requires more attention. Overall, Last Night I Sang to the Monster demands to be read multiple times in order to really appreciate Zach’s healing process and Saenz’s marvelous words.
*Originally posted on GoodReads