I don’t think I would have ever notice the tiny book just lying there. Not until my bookworm friend grabbed me, shoved the book in my hands and said: Read it. And so I did.
To summarize, this story is about two boys who are both kinda confused with their life. Although it appears, on the surface level, that they’re polar opposites with distinct personalities, after reading the entire book you can see they’re similar in ways. They endure hardships and eventually falls in love. I’m gonna explain later on why this love dove part seems kind of rushed.
Aristotle Mendoza is the depressed, careless 14-year-old that doesn’t know what to do with life. He’s bad in school. He doesn’t have much friends. His life is boring. And he has a brother, Bernardo, who had killed someone previously; the family never talked about him. Basically, they don’t acknowledge Bernardo’s existence. From a reader’s point of view, it seems like that’s the main reason Ari is depressed is because he is unable to cope with this since he loved Bernardo a lot. Okay – so this is sad. But kinda doesn’t make sense. I understand that depression can be triggered by many things, even in some cases nothing at all, but because the author doesn’t really specify what makes Ari really sad (maybe 15 year old phases? But it seems more serious than mood swings). Also, I’m not sure the book’s target audience is, but as a teen, I don’t exactly get why Ari has depression. Maybe I’m being insensitive as a reader that’s not experienced anything too bad.
What I really like is that the second male lead enters really quickly, and there’s no dragging in the story. Enter: Dante Quintana. Meeting through the local swimming pool, Dante offers to teach our homie swimming. They bond over their casual and honest natures. So throughout the first few chapters, we are mainly introduced to Ari’s everyday life and interactions with Dante. Dante’s parents are pretty nice and chill, welcoming Ari with unusual interest. Dante comes to Ari’s house and surprisingly his dad, who is a PTSD victim from the Vietnam War and rarely opens up to anyone – including Ari, actually likes Dante and his family.
In between the friendship that’s slowly blossoming, we also see fragmented and hints of Ari’s life. For example, we see clearly how Ari starts to grow and develop his relationship with his mom as a teenager. We also can see, very subtly, what’s going on in Ari’s depression. His dad neglects him a lot, despite loving him deep down. Each of the family members seem to have their own way of grieving, separately feeling things instead of sorting it together as a family. In fact, there are two older sisters that I don’t get to know at all! Both Ari and his dad also have nightmares that give me the vibes that he’s suffering from derealization, which the book could have expanded more upon to build emotional connection from the reader to Ari, since many people do struggle with their parents on a basic level.
Later into the story, Ari gets severely injured from saving Dante. Dante tried to save a bird in the middle of the road when a car curved and would have killed Dante if Ari hadn’t pushed him onto the sidewalk. That would have been an epic hero and damsel situation and probably, one of the – if not arguably the best – moments where Dante and Ari could have built their love, had the car not RUN OVER Ari’s legs. As expected, Dante’s parents are beyond grateful. At this point, I think Ari’s life is kinda low. Dante revealed he was leaving for Chicago for a year – literally right before the guy’s legs were broken, summer is over (sun showers and swimming has ended), school is starting (which means more bugging from Gina and Susie), and his best friend won’t be here.
After Dante leaves, we see the contrast in his life when Dante was in Ari’s life. He’s got some annoying ‘friends’, if that’s even considered one. They discover some maturing together, as well as chugging beer and working for their goals. Ari gets his first kiss and his first heartbreak from a confusing girl who turns out, is already in a relationship with her abusive boyfriend. Dante, on the other hand, falls in love?? Yep. Dante finds out he’s gay. Right before his one year in Chicago ends, Dante falls out of the infatuation he had with a girl and comes to terms with the fact that he doesn’t like girls romantically.
All that love drama in the one year ends and Dante comes back. And he kisses Ari. Like with consent, obviously. Our guy is super taken aback, denying all signs that Dante loves him. But they kiss. Real. Like every other book, Ari’s life is basically in jagged ups and downs. Right after Dante kisses him – causing Ari to be thrown into a whirlwind of emotions – Ari’s aunt Ophelia, who had bonded with Ari with a deep emotional connection that was (at least I predict) buried by dejection for the brother, suffers from a stroke and dies.
In the end, Ari kisses Dante. They have a great, romantic smoochy scene in the desert close to El Paso. Great! Except, this entire story, this is the thing that irks me most. It honestly didn’t feel very romantic to me. Dante and Ari were bonding, yes, but it was giving me best friend I’m-here-for-you vibes. Apart from the super abrupt I’m gay from Dante, there wasn’t exactly a great sense of build up. There should have been hints at the very start that indicated some sort of love, not all of a sudden make the ending all romantic. It just doesn’t make sense for me.
All in all, I really loved the writing style. If the one big rushed thing in this story could be solved, this would then probably be one of the best books I’ve ever read. The way the author easily uses repetitive words and simple, straight-to-the-point statements that just made me feel really engaged and content with the book.
Definitely recommended for those who like a good old bittersweet recovery and larger-than-life characters realism book.