Early in Seeing Off the Johns, author Rene S. Perez II gives us the key word in the story: onus—a burden or responsibility, often an unpleasant one.
Greenton is a small, dead-end town in 1998 Texas where no one expects greatness but some dream of it nonetheless. As the novel opens, the entire town has showed up to bestow well wishes upon their two hometown heroes, John Robison and John Mejia, athletic superstars who are headed to UT Austin. But the Johns never make it to the university—their car flips en route, and the two are killed.
Perhaps the only person in Greenton who didn’t see off the Johns was Concepcion “Chon” Gonzales, who has been waiting nearly his entire life for John Mejia to get out of dodge so he can take a shot at Mejia’s girlfriend, Araceli. As cold and insensitive as it sounds, death has made Chon’s dreams come true, and he finds relief from resentment as he finally pursues his dream girl. But like a child who learns the world doesn’t pause while he sleeps, Chon begins to recognize the crushing unfairness and ugliness of death’s gift. Mejia’s parents’ grief becomes Araceli’s unwanted burden, and the citizens of Greenton turn to her, watching her reaction as if it were a barometer for their own. Chon, whose full name essentially translates to sex, evolves beyond both his shallow, lustful desire for Araceli and his pursuit of some kind of machismo protector status, and he eventually finds the capacity to connect—with Araceli and his community—and acknowledge the tragedy in the Johns’ passing.
Loss, and our response to it, is no simple thing. This is a searing, mature novel, not just because sexual scenes (which are among the most complex and thoughtful moments in the book) are included, but in the way it handles the innumerable challenges associated with grief and love.