THE LUIS ORTEGA SURVIVAL CLUB by Sonora Reyes
I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and Libro.fm, online retailers that support independent booksellers. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission. For more information, see my “About” page.
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.
Ariana Ruiz doesn’t quite know what happened at the party last night. She knows she went with popular, attentive Luis Ortega. She knows that she and Luis had sex, and that she didn’t 100% want to. And she knows that now she feels dirty, empty, and panicked that someone will find out, someone like Luis’s ex-girlfriend Shawni who warned Ari to stay away from him. Of course Ari had thought she and Luis were just friends, and if he’d asked her if she wanted to have sex she’d have said no. Or at least she’d have wanted to say no. Autistic with selective mutism, Ari can’t speak in situations where she isn’t completely comfortable–and she was very uncomfortable in that bedroom with Luis.
But shouldn’t he still have asked first?
Before she’s had a chance to process, someone (probably Shawni) starts spreading the rumor that Ari and Luis had sex, and other boys start sexually harassing her in the hallways now that they know she’s “easy.” Desperate for someone to help her make sense of this mess, she responds to a cryptic note left in her locker and discovers the Luis Ortega Survival Club, a group of classmates who have been hurt by Luis’s behavior in the past, led by Shawni. When the little group decides to plot revenge, Ari is all in. She may not be sure how things got out of control at the party–and she’s certainly not ready to talk about it–but she knows that Luis deserves revenge. Because if Shawni wasn’t the one setting Ari up for harassment and assault, the culprit is obvious–and he needs to be stopped before he hurts anyone else.
A strong community and vengeful justice keep this trauma narrative hopeful and triumphant. Reyes sensitively portrays the challenges of navigate high school, social groups, and family with a disability that others don’t understand (or in some cases, believe in) and how this affects Ari’s self-actualization. Ari’s sensory sensitivities and post-traumatic stress symptoms also read as authentic, although the emphasis is not either autism or PTSD but on community building after trauma. Ari and several other characters are queer or nonbinary, and romantic threads enter in the second half. This novel will appeal to fans of high-concept YA contemporary novels, such as DANGEROUS PLAY or DOES MY BODY OFFEND YOU.
Note: While Ari’s speech increases throughout the story, signaling her growing closeness with her Survival Club friends, this experience should not be mistaken as representative for all nonspeaking autistic people. Of course, this is true for all depictions of characters from marginalized communities in all books, but the nonspeaking autistic experience is so rarely represented that I wanted to call attention to it here. (Also, the term “nonverbal” used in this book is not preferred by majority of the nonspeaking autistic community, but may be preferred by some individuals. The autistic community is extremely diverse!)