Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
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I never intended to read this book. It was one of those crazy hyped books when I first started watching Booktube videos and despite all the good things said about it, and despite all of the awards stickers stuck on the front, I decided it wasn’t for me. The other day, though, I was browsing Overdrive for audiobooks and saw this (the lovely cover always catches my eye) but it was only after seeing it was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda that I decided to pick it up.
I have absolutely nothing in common with the main characters. I am not Mexican, male, a teenager, or even living in the US. And yet. I would be listening along thoroughly enjoying myself and no worse off for the lack of common ground and then Sáenz would throw in a reference that means something to me, like the inclusion of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, my own favourite painting, and bam! Connection reestablished. Though perhaps that’s unkind. I never felt disconnected from the characters, there was something in Ari’s thought processes that kept me with him the entire way through the novel.
And I think that’s what I liked the best about the story, I was rooting for Ari from page one. Of course, the writing is beautiful and Miranda’s narration was lovely, but I felt as though I was experiencing everything right alongside Ari and all I wanted was for everything to work out for him. And now, it’s not often that I’m yelling, “Just be together! Kiss him!” at a book, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing. It was nice to be so invested in the lives and happiness of the characters of a relatively short, standalone novel. It’s also rare, read non existent, for me to finish a book and want to immediately start again from page one, but that’s what I wanted to do with this one.