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Richie's Picks: HE FORGOT TO SAY GOODBYE by  Benjamin Alire Saenz, Simon & 
Schuster Books for Young Readers, June 2008,  ISBN: 1-4169-4963-1
Notes from my reading, Day One:
"I didn't stop there.  Of course I didn't.  I just  felt I had to add that I 
probably had a better idea of the serious philosophy of  anarchy than a man 
like him whose addiction to order seriously undermined his  feeble attempts at 
engaging his imagination.
"He returned my remark by reminding me that he remained  unimpressed with my 
shallow intellectual demeanor and that nothing could  disguise my obstinate, 
disrespectful, and undisciplined attitude.  He said  being a smart aleck didn't 
actually make me smart.  And then he said it  again: 'Despite your extensive, 
if aggressive vocabulary, you're nothing but an  angry, disrespectful young 
man who needs a little discipline.'  You see,  the thing with adults is that 
respect is just a word they use to guilt us  nonadults into doing what they want 
us to do.  But did Mr. Alexis leave it  at that?  Of course not.  He reminded 
me and Tom and John that it was  a privilege to attend a pre-med magnet 
school and if we weren't very careful,  well, we just might be sent back to a 
normal school.  That's how he put  it.  A normal school.  That guy, he destroys me. 
 Where in the  hell was he going to find a normal school?  How can schools be 
normal when  they're run by adults like him."
To tell you the truth, reading HE FORGOT TO SAY  GOODBYE has so far been 
really slow going for me.  But  that is only because Ben Saenz is a poet, and 
while there is theoretically   not a line of verse in the whole book, reading it 
is sure causing me  to treat it as if it were an exceptional volume of YA  
poetry.  This is one of those books that I need to read aloud and then read  aloud 
again so that I can savor the words and expressions --  English and Spanish 
-- of entire amazing passages. 
Notes from my reading, Day Two: 
I would really prefer to have an audience so that I  could actually be 
sharing these words and expressions and entire amazing  passages but, instead, I 
have been sitting up in my room alone, reading  aloud and loudly to myself, and 
totally cracking up every couple of pages,  particularly with the Jake 
monologues.  Yes, there are a  whole slew of passages here which are so hysterical 
that I  am repeatedly delaying any forward motion by re-reading and  
re-re-reading two- and three-page passages aloud in order to  cause myself to laugh 
over again.  (By now the family dog  must think I'm in serious need of a mental 
health professional.)  In  fact, I was inspired to write the Day One notes 
yesterday upon  reaching  page 39; now -- hours of reading later -- I've just 
finished  re-reading page 52.  And I'm still sitting here cracking  up.
Notes from my reading, Day Three: 
HE FORGOT TO SAY GOODBYE is a story about what it is to become  a man.  It is 
the tale of two teenage guys in El Paso, Texas who  know each other on a very 
casual basis.  What they don't yet know they  have in common is that neither 
really knows more about his own respective  father than what he has gotten 
from his mom and -- in Ramiro's  case -- his mom's sister.
Ramiro Lopez lives with his thirty-something, single  mother, who works for a 
physician, and his younger brother Tito (an  angry, violent, drug-abusing 
teenager with deadened eyes who  is big trouble).  Ramiro attends Jefferson High 
School (La  Jeff).
Jake Upthegrove, the self-described teen anarchist (whose  attitudes and 
observations about adults have kept me in stitches for  days) lives with his mo
ther -- whose "work" is shopping --and his  wealthy-attorney-stepfather in a home 
that is staffed by a full-time  Mexican American maid and a part time 
gardener.  Jake  attends the pre-med magnet high school that adjoins La Jeff.
"Put it this way: The good, intelligent pre-med magnet school  students 
'attend their classes in a separate facility.'  So we don't even  have 'contact.'  
That's the word they use too.  'Contact.'  Like  they've landed on the moon.  
I mean, crap, what's wrong with contact?   What are we gonna do to those kids, 
kill them?  Touch them?  Infect  them with Mexican ways of thinking?  Make 
them ride burros?  Take  their English and put it between two pieces of corn 
tortillas until it sounds  Spanish?  What?  It really makes me mad.  So we're all 
 separate.  I mean, the only person I know from the pre-med magnet school is  
this guy named Jake.  We both sort of hang out in the same place on the  
school grounds.  We don't say much -- we just sort of nod at each  other.  
Sometimes we exchange a few words.  That's it.  He likes  to smoke.  Sometimes we 
talk a little bit.  Not a lot.  I mean,  I'm not sure what to say to the guy.  
The thing is, I don't think either  one of us fits in at school.  It's a place 
we go to because we have  to.
"School is like this speed bump, and I think we're both in a  hurry to move 
on down the road.  So we both sort of hide out just off the  school grounds, 
which is illegal.  Well. not exactly illegal, but against  the rules.  Rules, 
see, they keep us in line.  In line is better than  chaos, I suppose.  Or maybe 
not.  Who knows?"
I'm not going to blog each succeeding day in the week that it  took me to 
finish reading the book with all of the u-turns I made along the  way. But I 
have, in fact, now spent a lot of quality time  with Ramiro and Jake and can say 
that this one is right up there with  my all-time favorite YAs. 
From reading HE FORGOT TO SAY GOODBYE, it is clear that  becoming a man has 
much to do with relationships.  There are relationships  here between 
adolescent guys and other guys, with girls as friends, with  girls as girlfriends, 
teachers, with siblings, with neighbors, with hired  help, with mothers and 
with themselves.  
HE FORGOT TO SAY GOODBYE is not a book that is going  to be able to be taught 
in middle school because of the language contained  in it, but it will surely 
appeal to many students heading into high  school and this is unquestionably 
a book good enough to be added to  a high school English curriculum.  
Ben Saenz is also the author of SAMMY AND  JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD, which was up 
at the top of my Best of 2004 list.  It  is not at all going out on a limb to 
predict that a year from now HE FORGOT  TO SAY GOODBYE will be sitting up 
there on my Best of 2008  list.     

Richie  Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks
Caldecott  '09

**************Start the year off right.  Easy ways to stay in shape.

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