Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same
by Mattox Roesch
When Cesar’s mother decides to return to her hometown in rural Alaska, Cesar is dragged from his Los Angeles home kicking and screaming. Sure, life there had its problems…Cesar may have been in a gang, with a deadbeat father and a brother serving a life sentence in prison, but L.A. was home. Why would he give that up for some podunk in the frozen north? Even before the plane lands in Unalakleet, Cesar is plotting his escape.
Life in Unalakleet isn’t so bad, though. Cesar soon forges a bond with his cousin Go-Boy, a college dropout with a vision for improving the world. The two teens spend the summer counting the salmon that swim in the river (hey, it’s a job that pays!), exploring the town and falling in love. After tragedy strikes their family, Go-Boy starts to unravel, losing his focus and disappearing for a month. Cesar suddenly finds himself struggling to hold his new family together, but through it all the tight-knit community supports them.
There are a lot of darker themes in this story. The main character participated in a group rape when he was with his gang, and his brother’s a murderer. A child is put into a coma by an abusive father. Go-boy is clearly suffering from some mental disorder; I don’t remember if he was specifically diagnosed in the book, but I came away with the assumption he was manic-depressive. Death sweeps in and takes away a loved one multiple times. Yet, I wouldn’t describe Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same as a dark novel. I thought it was humorous, quirky, and ultimately very hopeful and positive.
Cesar narrates the story, and being a teenage boy he focuses on the things that interest him. Sometimes this was a little frustrating, because I’d want to know more about a peripheral character and Cesar wouldn’t, so they’d remain an enigma. For example, Cesar’s mother moves back to her childhood home after years in California – what was it like for her? But to Cesar, she’s just his mom, so she never really steps outside that role. But Cesar’s thoughts are easy to read and very relatable. Events are a bit jumbled at times, since memories aren’t always recalled in chronological order, but the unpredictability helped keep me engaged. Even though many of his actions were bad, I found Cesar likable.
The contrast between life up in Alaska in an isolated village and the violent, vengeance-ridden gang life in Los Angeles created a great tension in Cesar’s character. Both worlds were pretty foreign to a spoiled suburban brat like me, so I really liked experiencing them through Cesar’s eyes. As he matures and grows, coming to peace with his past and his present, everything in the story comes together. It isn’t a neat and tidy ending, with all the loose ends tied up in a bow. The story just ends, floating out on Cesar and Go-boy hanging out, rather like it begins. It matches the tone of the story perfectly.