• Elina Arbo

THROWING THE CROWN: BOOK REVIEW

“He was just some coked-out,

crazed King w/crooked teeth

& a tear drop forever falling”


From the first stanza, readers fasten onto a different reality. Jacob Saenz reflects on his youth and adulthood against a backdrop of constant turmoil in Throwing the Crown. Topics of gang violence, race, marriage, youth, and family are all instances to challenge normality. Through love and struggle, there is a constant urge to question the status quo that is the patriarchy, heteronormativity, and masculinity. The rhythms and rhymes of his poems encapsulate such a distinctive experience. He composes the reality of Latinx identity in a Cicero/Chicago backdrop and is raw, unrestrained. There are moments where readers are able to comparatively draw on their childhood, while there are also instances of dissimilarity and survival that Saenz is subjected to.


The poems are split into three different parts, which imitate Saenz’s waves of reflection. Part I guides readers through the cycle of boyhood. There are moments of tension, such as the instance of physical altercation with his stepfather, which snaps readers into the present. But then, of course, there are the sweet, nostalgic consolations of his youth which are taken up by video games and snacks. However, even in these softer moments, there is a harsh impending realness; the corner store he visits with his friends to buy Cheetos from is being gentrified. There is a never-ending roughness that underlies his experience. With great detail, Saenz captures the constant influx of violence in its many forms.


Saenz then transitions to the end of his boyhood. In Part II of the book, he has grown into adulthood unmarried. A commentary is created on the uselessness of ceremony, as they constantly take up time from much of his adulthood. “The Bachelor Attends a Wedding” to “The Bachelor Attends Another Wedding”, repetition defines the despair and loneliness felt. However, intertwined in these moments are breaks, moments of humor that undo life’s dullness. There is also an instance where Saenz balances all of these emotions, as he ponders love & what it could be. He creates and holds these meanings closely. Part II of the book is a fresh start, an interesting perspective on reality that breaks from the first part. He highlights the difficulties of growing up and the pertinence of finding love. It gives readers a new look into his life, right before Saenz circles back to where he initially started in the next phase.


In Part III, we are reminded of the neverending past that continues to follow Saenz even as he becomes older. The imagery associated with the Latin Kings reappears. Abuse is also observed, yet again. While there are some continuities with Part I of the book, there are changes. One being more personal of his relationships. Saenz writes to his relationships, the women closest to him. The genuine care and love of his mother, and the roots which connect him to his grandmother. He no longer represses the emotional distraught his absent father has created; the fury, anger, and disappointment are finally brought to the readers’ attention. We are guided even deeper into the life of Jacob Saenz, just as we think we have reached his core, there is another layer.


Many of the poems end abruptly or feel incomplete, but I believe that’s a testament to growing up in constant instability. Saenz shares this vulnerability at every stage of his growth. He ignites the meaning of reality, setting memories ablaze. The future is a continuation of the past and constructs his conception of home. There is a new and interesting perspective to life shared with us in the way Saenz tells his story.


“My fingers ringless yet feeling like gold.”


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