Xolo Score 3.5/5
Content warning: sexual assault
The Luis Ortega Survival Club is a tender young adult novel that takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, friendship, and resilience. Ariana Ruiz is a Mexican American autistic teen “with a heavy dose of selective mutism,” trying her best to get through high school in one piece. And it seems she may even have an opportunity at romance when the dreamy and popular Luis Ortega asks her out. But during a friend’s party, Luis takes advantage of her selective mutism and her trust to have sex with her without consent. Other boys in school start to harass Ariana when rumors ignite about the supposed hook-up. Ariana struggles to process and manage what is happening to her until she finds a note in her locker reading “Me Too” and info on a Tumblr account called The Luis Ortega Survival Club – a support group for people whose reputations were ruined by Luis.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
The character of Ariana is the novel’s greatest strength. Reyes depicts Ariana’s trauma with sensitivity and nuance, incorporating Ariana’s experiences as a Latine and Autistic teenager. Ariana constantly points out the double standards she experiences for stimming or her aversion to physical touch, especially growing up in a family that struggles to process their emotions productively and believes that therapy is for people who are “crazy.” And although plenty of people undermine Ariana’s abilities, she leans on her inner strength to form supportive relationships with the members of the Survival Club and take back the power she didn’t know she had.
The novel dedicates a lot of plot to exploring Ariana’s same-sex romance, sexuality, and gender identity. As she becomes closer to the other members of the survival club, Ariana gains the support and confidence to dig deep and wonder what feels right to her. The survival club becomes a safe space filled with support, love, and encouragement that Ariana needs to come into her own. It is a shame that the other characters involved in the revenge plot weren’t as well-written. They each have a different voice and are interesting beyond their shared hatred of Luis.
Additionally, the novel handles the trauma of sexual assault with a lot of care and nuance. It points out how most systems of authority, such as police or school administration, will rarely help a sexual assault victim, especially if they are a person of color. And it sheds light on how a lot of PTSD comes from knowing that a victim is not at fault and that they didn’t do anything wrong because it implies that you are helpless at preventing it from happening. But the important thing is that Ariana finds a way to cope and process what happened to her and find a path forward.
The Luis Ortega Survival Guide is a tender-hearted revenge plot YA novel that will warm your heart.
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