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Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same

by Mattox Roesch

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is authentic, gritty, and meaningful. It was difficult to read at times, due the dark themes, but hey, that's a reflection of the real world. I found it very well-written and original. It's certainly the best book I've ever read about small-town Alaska. I'll be keeping a lookout for what's next from this young author. ( )
  heavyleg | Oct 4, 2017 |
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. ( )
  makaiju | Jun 19, 2010 |
This book attracted me mostly due to its name-- somehow, the book description didn't give me an idea of what to expect.(I much prefer the description on Unbridled Books to the one that is here and on Amazon).Same-same is as quirky as the name would lead you to expect- quirky without being either cute or light. The focus was on character-- mostly that of Cesar. Cesar was on a bad path in LA, one likely to end like that of his brother, who is in jail because of his role in a gang shooting. Cesar has already found himself involved in one truly terrible crime.Moving to Alaska with his mother gives him a new start, just not the one he's looking for. He's got a plan to move back to LA and move in with his dad. Unfortunately, his father is most notable in this story for his absence.Luckily for all involved, Cesar meets up with his local cousin, Go-boy. The reader as well as the characters in the book wonder whether Go-boy is crazy. Certainly, the letters he writes to Yoko Ono are crazy. The signs he puts up around town are pretty crazy. On the other hand, there seems to be a method to his madness.My favorite character was Kiana, Cesar's girlfriend and Go-boy's cousin. She's a teenage math genius who doesn't always make good personal choices. I'd love to know what happens to her down the road.The books looks at issues of character and of responsibility, questions of how one decision (or non-decision) can change a life. It's thought provoking while being funny and readable. ( )
  ImBookingIt | Mar 26, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Sometimes We're Always Real same-same" by Mattox Roesch is a fresh take on a coming-of-age theme. The book's main characters are Cesar Stone, a young boy from the gang-ridden streets of L.A. He comes to Unalakleet, in rural Alaska because his mother wants to spare him the same fate as his imprisoned older brother Wicho. There he befriends Go-Boy, his cousin. Kiana, his adopted cousin and sister of Go-Boy becomes Cesar's love interest rather quickly and at the risk of his developing friendship with Go-Boy.
The book is well-written and contains some facts about Alaska that reveals that the author lives in Unalakleet himself. Not only does he appear to have an insider's knowledge of the geographical aspects of Alaska, but he gives the reader the sense that he is familiar with the mentality it takes for people to live in the bitter weather conditions, the lack of sunlight that preys on people's psyche, and a sort of hopefulness brought to bear from generations of families that have continued to play a part in the tight-knit communities that develop of necessity in the unforgiving cold.
While the writing is good, the author has spots that could have been resolved more quickly towards the middle of the book, and his short story style (this book was originally featured in "America's Best Non-Required Reading" while appropriate for a short story collection , is not right in a novel form.
I found myself reading to find out what would develop between Kiana and Cesar, Go-Boy and Cesar and whether Cesar could adjust to life in Alaska. I felt the portrayal of Alaska was almost that of another character in the book, affecting the behavior of other characters, particularly Cesar and Go-Boy. Go-Boy's attempts to form an alternative religion based on people being good to each other, speaks to the main theme of the book, where Cesar is saved by the good he finds in Go-Boy and the fact that Go-Boy needs Cesar to help him, also. It seems that every character ultimately needs help from another human being. In the desolate environment of a small Alaskan town, Roesch shows Cesar that everybody benefits from community and that even he can help others, in this case, Go-Boy needs him. Ultimately, I would have to say that I enjoyed the plot, but there were times that I found my attention wandering. Maybe the book could have been shorter. In other reviews I have seen it stated that high school students would enjoy this book and I am inclined to agree. ( )
  mmignano11 | Jan 2, 2010 |
Debut author Mattox Roesch has tremendous talent and the ability to create characters who leap off the page. This story is about Cesar, a young LA gangbanger, and his mother who has decided to move herself and her son back to the small Alaskan community that she was born in and ran away from 20 years ago. There Cesar's life becomes entwined in his ebullient cousin Go-Boy's wild schemes for a new philosophy of living and his own religion based on the Alaskan, feminine, Jesus. The author actually lives in the town that this story is set in, so his portrait of small village Alaskan life sings with detail and charm. This glimpse of life in a far off place, family, community, and starting over is written with a fresh and vibrant voice that is unforgettable. ( )
  JackieBlem | Nov 26, 2009 |
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Dedication
Dedicated to the memories of Jason Everhard and Gabriel Towarak
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I almost ended up with Go-boy's tattoo.
Quotations
We are all someone's son, or sister, or cousin, or mother,or uncle. We are all watching and cheering for Go-boy. We are all part of this village, and not part of someplace else, We are all going to be okay.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Troubled Cesar is stuck in nowhere Alaska because his Eskimo mother has moved home where she hopes both of them can carve out a fresh start. He's just biding his time until he can return to L.A., but his off-beat cousin Go-boy is convinced Cesar will stay, so they make a wager. If Cesar is still in Unalakleet in a year, he has to get a copy of Go-Boy's Eskimo Jesus tattoo. Gradually Cesar discovers the power of friendship and the potential positive strength that springs from a tight-knit community.… (more)

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