Published: Simon & Schuster, 2012
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, LGBTQIA, romance
My rating: 4/5
Description: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.” (Goodreads)
Why I picked it up: I actively search for LGBTQIA YA fiction, and I had heard a lot of wonderful things about this book. It was on my TBR since I stumbled across it online, but couldn’t find a copy until I visited Strand in New York City a few months ago.
Summary: I loved this book so much. It gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that I look for in contemporary YA romance, and characters I fell in love with. I almost couldn’t ask for anything more.
First off, this story is set in the 1980s Texas. At first, I didn’t know if the year would complicate things for me. I prefer things that are generally set at present day, but it didn’t throw me off too much while adding context to the LGBTQIA theme of the story. The Texas setting also added an extra layer to the story. The characters are both Mexican, and struggle with their identities throughout the story. I wasn’t really expecting this (I’m not very observant, as you can probably tell) but I absolutely loved the inclusion of it, especially by an author of color.
This was one of those books where I absolutely fell in love with the characters. I loved Ari’s sarcastic personality, his growth, and how he came to terms and began to understand certain things he struggled with. I also loved Dante’s more upbeat, sunny personality, though I couldn’t relate to that even half as much as I related to Ari. Either way, I loved their dynamic and watching their relationship develop over time.
As far as the side characters, I felt like they helped develop Ari and Dante’s characters quite well, though Ari’s a little more than Dante’s. I enjoyed how Ari’s relationship with the group of girls changed over time, and it really showed Ari’s change in how he perceives himself and the world. I also loved the loving and supporting parents. This was very important to me, as I have a strained relationship with both of my parents. I see so little of supportive, involved parents in YA, and TV shows and movies that revolve around teen characters. Both Ari and Dante’s parents play an important role in their solo development and their relationship. I hadn’t realized how little good parenting I had seen in YA until I read this book, and it was very refreshing. However, my biggest complaint about this book does come from the action of a parent, and it’s the reason I gave it 4 stars. I generally keep my reviews spoiler-free, so I won’t go into detail about it. I was just rather put back about a conversation between Ari and his parents, and I was very disappointed about how the situation was approached. It felt unrealistic, and wasn’t, in my opinion, remotely the right way to go about the situation. Regardless, I adored the parents, along with most other side characters, in this book.
Sáenz’s writing reminded me so much of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The voice started out sounding like a very young voice and seemed to mature throughout the story, fitting the character arc and themes. There was a good balance of dialogue, description, and plot, told beautifully. I definitely plan to read more of Sáenz’s work. I’m especially looking forward to the Aristotle and Dante sequel he’s writing.
Quotes I enjoyed:
“I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”
“Another secret of the universe: sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”
“The summer was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.”
Recommend for fans of: Carry on by Rainbow Rowell, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, & Sarah Dessen.