Go smiled, said, “When we see ourselves without judgment, then we’ll begin to see and accept others without judgment. We’ll turn the volume down on the external world, and we’ll see we’re all connected, we’re all same-same.” – from Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, page 175 –
Cesar is a troubled seventeen year old, growing up on the streets of Los Angeles. His father is mostly absent. His older brother, Wicho, is serving time for the murder of two teenage boys. Cesar is fast following in his brother’s footsteps – a member of a gang whose violence is pulling Cesar into a world where there is no future. Concerned about her son, and wishing to start over, Cesar’s mother decides to move back to the small town of Unalakleet, Alaska – a fishing village where she grew up. Cesar at first believes the move to be temporary…and makes a bet with his cousin Go-boy that he will move back to LA within a year. But Cesar is unprepared for the power of his cousin’s optimism. Go-boy believes in a Good World Conspiracy…and he is ready to lead the way, sporting an Eskimo Jesus tattoo on one arm while philosophizing about the strength of goodness in their small town.
Go was the only person I’d ever known who could take a good perspective on anything, and the only person I knew who assumed I could and would do the right thing, the good thing. It was obvious that when Wicho told me he believed I would go to college and get him out of jail, he was just messing with a little kid, trying to cheer up his sorry- and lonely-ass little brother. But when Go-boy bet me I’d stay in Alaska, and when Go-boy encouraged me to pursue a hundred other interests and plans, even invited me to help him, it felt authentic. All of it. It was real. And I liked the version of myself that Go-boy saw. – from Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, page 116 –
As Cesar adapts to life in Unalakleet, his vision of the world begins to change. Together, with Go-boy and Go-boy’s half sister Kiana, Cesar begins to envision a different future for himself.
I wrote that if we had grown up here, Wicho wouldn’t have shot anybody. There were no gangs on the tundra. Nobody was shooting to claim shoreline. Nobody was walking around town flashing anything but a wave. – from Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, page 130 –
And when it was deep up here our boats didn’t get stuck, and when all of life’s shit landed on a single day, when the moment arose that we wanted to reach for our guns and spray a bullet or two through a couple people, instead we could drive up North River till we ran out of gas, sit on the shore, skip some rocks, and never see another person. Time was everywhere. We could wait anything out. – from Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, page 130 –
Mattox Roesch’s debut novel is about hope born of our connectedness with others. Dark at times, the story explores the roots of despair and how easily an individual can choose the wrong path in their search for identity. Narrated in the original voice of seventeen-year-old Cesar, Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same reveals the struggle in choosing a moral path, the guilt of past actions which can not be undone, and the attempt to find meaning in one’s life.
Roesch’s prose is marked by breaks in the narrative, a shifting between past and present. This style did not always work for me, and although it did create a tension in the novel, I found it mostly annoying. Despite this, I thought Roesch got the voice of Cesar “right.” Tough and occasionally insensitive, Cesar was not always a likable character. Although the novel is about Cesar’s growth, I was more strongly drawn to Go-boy who is a quirky, sensitive guy wanting desperately to believe in the goodness of others. Go-boy’s decompensation, as Cesar becomes stronger, was a powerful aspect of the book.
I finished this book with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I loved the message of the book and the originality of the prose. On the other hand, I found Roesch’s style sometimes difficult to read. I believe young adults will be drawn to Roesch’s teenage narrator and Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same would make for an excellent book discussion. Readers looking to gain insight into a troubled teen’s thoughts will find this novel compelling.