I hands-down adored this gem of a novel. Written from the point of view of Ari, short of Aristotle, it follows the story of two summers and a school year. During the first summer, he meets Dante at the local pool. Dante is unlike anyone he’s ever met before, and they become best friends and nearly inseperable. This novel charts the course of their relationship, as well as Ari’s relationships with his mother and father and his yearning to know about his older brother, who is in prison and never spoken of in his household.
Ari is a very interesting narrator. He isn’t a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. He likes to be alone, he doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he has a constant anger simmering right below the surface. By contrast, Dante is a kid who wants to know everything. He wants to know Ari deeply, and he embraces life fully. He has a tender heart and puts up almost no façade between him and the world. The ups and downs of their relationship were unpredictable, which I really liked. At times, I wanted to throw the book through the window because Ari was making me so angry, and I longed to ask him why he was making the choices he was making. I also felt at times that I knew Ari better than he knew himself, then I would wonder if I was just trying to force something I wanted to happen and I was wrong, but in the end, I was glad to find I was right. Essentially, it was a novel unpredictable in the way that life is very unpredictable and I love that.
Be forewarned, though, that this novel deals with a lot of heavy topics. It deals with Ari’s parents’ unwillingness to lose another son to the prison system, and their desire to forget about their other son and the pain it caused them. It deals with Ari’s father’s inability to fully inhabit the world around him after fighting in Vietnam. It deals with issue of violence and sexuality and culture and how all of them fit (or don’t) into Ari and Dante’s lives as adolescents. It deals with these issues in very realistic ways, and it never felt like it was forced. It always felt real and raw and intense, much as I remember pretty much everything feeling in high school.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. There were times where the story dragged or the characters made me angry, but it was a really good read. Watching the interplay between Ari and Dante from Ari’s point of view was interesting, given the amount of anger and confusion he had about the world and about himself. They were characters that were very well drawn, as were their parents. I also always appreciate it when I can read a book where none of the main characters are white, and non-heterosexual relationships are explored. The conclusion was well worth the reading, and I’m very excited that there’s supposed to be a sequel coming out.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Have you read this book? Thoughts? Any similar books you would recommend? Let me know below!