Author: Sonora Reyes
Content Warnings: Off-page sexual assault, bullying, slut shaming, rape culture, sexual harassment, biphobia
Genre: YA LGBTQ+ Romance
Release Date: May 23, 2023
RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain
7/10 alienated violets.
This review contains spoilers.
After falling in love with Sonora Reyes’ 2022 debut YA Sapphic romance, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, I was honored when I was selected by Reyes themself to read an Advanced Reader Copy of The Luis Ortega Survival Club!
What enamored me in Reyes’ debut–their penchant for calling out institutions who justify and/or cover up the bad things that happen to (queer) people–fortifies the backbone of this novel (and protagonist) as well: Ariana not only desires to become a journalist who “Exposes the Mierda [Shit],” as her favorite website does, but she also becomes a victim of said mierda. While the Catholic church was at the center of their debut novel, The Luis Ortega Survival Club tackles rape culture and men’s uncanny ability to not only get away with it but be believed in the face of a mountain of evidence that points to their guilt.
One of this novel’s central preoccupations, which helps to illuminate the perpetuation of rape culture, is (not) talking: Ariana has selective mutism; her parents opt to only talk to each other pleasantly in front of her despite their shit-show of a marriage; Ariana cannot voice the truth of what happened between her and Luis at the party (in fact, she can’t even admit to herself that she was raped until late in the novel); Ariana’s mother’s inability to share with her daughter her own experience of sexual assault; etc. Even when Ariana receives a “me too” note in her locker with the name of a Tumblr account, whose owner purports to have undergone the same slut shaming that Ariana is experiencing now, she still hesitates to speak out for being tricked or further slandered.
While it could be said that the staples of YA fiction are the preoccupation with adolescent sensitivity, self-discovery, and self-presentation anxiety, Reyes’ writing sets itself apart from the rest through the author’s dedication to portraying adolescence both realistically (they do not shy away from the (sometimes harsh) realities of being adolescent and queer and autistic and Mexican and having a “specialized” body and a victim of sexual assault) and optimistically. Growing up, I remember so much of the YA fiction I read being woefully pessimistic or limited in its scope of hopefulness: the world would suck, but at least the character had one singular friend by the end. In Reyes’ work, there is always a unit of newfound, true friends or rejuvenated family connections that can cling to one another and forge their way forward.
If Sonora Reyes’ work is any indication of the future of (specifically autistic and queer) American youth and their welfare, we should be both hopeful and heartbroken. While we’re continually making strides forward despite (perhaps in spite of) the divided political climate, we still have a ton of work ahead of us.