I read some article the other day (Buzzfeed? Bookriot) that listed books with really great opening lines. I got a few from the library, and finished this one first. The opening line isn’t really that stellar — “One summer I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke.” — but the book itself has a really beautiful story.
“I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante.”
Aristotle and Dante, two teenage boys in El Paso with Mexican-American ancestry, meet at the pool one day. They bond over their unusual first names, and Dante teaches Aristotle how to swim. Throughout the rest of the book, we watch them learn more about each other as they grow and change over time. A lot of the book deals with identity issues — Dante’s pretty sure that he’s gay, and Aristotle feels pretty sure that he isn’t, but they both struggle with this as they become closer to each other. Race comes up, too, as neither of them feels quite “Mexican enough” OR “white enough” in their town. And Aristotle has some pretty serious anger issues, which he focuses on his parents, who basically disowned his older brother.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz tackles some pretty serious issues here, and does a good job, but what really dropped this book down a star for me was the dialogue. It’s very flowery and descriptive — not at all the way that teenagers actually talk — or anyone, really. Maybe this difference was highlighted for me since I was simultaneously listening to a Patrick Ness novel (from the same list!) that had really realistic conversations between its teens, who also dealt with these kinds of issues. Maybe the author did this intentionally — some sort of style choice. Either way, I found it distracting from an otherwise lovely novel.