Genre: Young Adult
Read: October 2016
Adjectives To Describe This Book: Flowing, Beautiful, Full of Heart, Angst, Pure
Read If You Are: Looking for an easy read with relatable characters that dwell into friendship, family and coming out of the closet.
Once upon a time, there was a fifteen-year-old Mexican-American boy who lived in a state of anger and loneliness. His name was Angel Aristotle Mendoza, but he liked to be called Ari. His father was a veteran who was troubled from his time at war and his mother was a high school teacher who doted on him. But he was alone.
One day he went to the community pool and chanced on a boy called Dante. You would think this story would revolve about their friendship, but it’s so much more than that.
Ari and Dante became fast friends even with their obvious differences. Dante was kind, loved poetry, sketching and he cried a lot. He was close to his parents and even kissed them on the cheek whenever he greeted them. Ari was aloof, liked to jog, and had repressed feelings about his parents and them keeping his imprisoned brother’s life a secret from him.
Yes, there are many subplots to this book.
The book isn’t a story of a ‘coming of age’ of two adolescent boys but of gay adolescent boys in the late 80s, and even then it isn’t just about that. It speaks of
- friendship between the boys but also between them and their parents,
- different kinds of parenting – how parents struggle with the decisions they make and how they try to rectify them,
- the ‘stigma’ of being gay,
- how people come to terms with their sexual orientation – specially at the age where EVERYTHING is so confusing,
- what it felt to be born ‘American’ but of a Mexican heritage,
- war and the effect it has on the people fighting it,
- and so much more…
The writing style of Benjamin Alire Sáenz, himself a Mexican-American, is writing style that just flows. I finished the book in under 24 hours because it didn’t feel hard and story line had me raptured. The characters were beautifully flawed and that felt real. You empathized with them, rolled your eyes with them, cried with them, loved with them.
And yet, I felt something was off. Maybe it was because the narrator was a fifteen-year-old and hence his prose was restricted to just a lot of ‘shit’, literally. Maybe it was because I couldn’t relate exceptionally well to the ideologies of growing up teenager boys in the 80s in El Paso, New Mexico. It could also be that I expected more. Whatever it is, it didn’t dampen my experience. The book is still what it is.
When I started reading this book I wondered what ‘secrets’ Aristotle and Dante would discover. I think about that scene when Ari, Dante and Sam (Dante’s father) go in the middle of the desert to look at the stars through the telescope. Dante whispered to Ari, ‘Someday I’m going to discover all the secrets to the universe.’ Ari had smiled and asked him what he would do with all those secrets. Dante said, ‘Maybe change the world.’
I feel like this is what this book has achieved – it’s changed the way LGBT books have been written. And I can’t say this for certain because I haven’t read too many of them, but I feel it. I can feel the difference and look out world, it’s coming for you!
“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get–and never would get.”
“Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing.”
“But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.”
“The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”