Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publication Date: 2/21/12
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Blurb(GR): A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 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.
I have so many books to review, but I wanted to make sure to write something about this one because it was my favorite of all the books I read on vacation. I wasn’t sure about Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Earlier this year, I read the beginning of, and subsequently gave up on, Last Night I Sang To The Monster. There was something about the writing or the main character that put me off. So I was a little worried about this one, but with all of the great reviews it’s received so far, I just had to give it a try.
This book completely won me over. Initially I did feel that same disconnect with the writing, but it grew on me. His prose is mainly comprised of short, sometimes awkward sentences that don’t always flow together. But then he throws in a passage that’s just so naked in its sincerity, so honest, that it feels like a punch to the gut. He got to me, one little piece of truth at a time, until he basically held my heart in his hands. By the end of this book, I was practically having an anxiety attack about how everything would resolve (or not). If he had chosen a darker, more unresolved (and sadly, more realistic) ending, he could have easily crushed me into a million pieces. But he didn’t. He gave me beautiful, romantic happiness and he made me love it. Which is perhaps the most amazing thing of all about this book – out of all my vacation reads, I loved a teen romance with a happy ending best.
So yes, this is a romance – a sweet, believable, yes-they-genuinely-love-each-other and it's not all about glowing sapphire eyes romance. And it’s not an easy one. Ari has learned to hide his feelings well – from his mother who refuses to even acknowledge the existence of his incarcerated brother and from his father who refuses to speak about the war that still haunts his dreams. Ari has hidden his feelings so well that even he can’t find them. He’s lost in that crucial period of adolescence when everything is in a state of change: his body, his mind, his emotions. Everything is unfamiliar – it’s as if his body is speaking a language he doesn’t know how to interpret.
“And me, I always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t even belong in my own body – especially in my own body. I was changing into someone I didn’t know. The change hurt but I didn’t know why it hurt. And nothing about my own emotions made any sense.”
And then there’s Dante – so effusive and open and so vulnerable as a result. So easily hurt. By the end of this book, I was feeling everything right along with these two. I wanted to scream at Ari in frustration and I wanted hold Dante’s hand and help him move forward. I don’t mind telling you all that this book kind of wrecked me, but in a good way.
Another thing that I truly love about this book is that it acknowledges that even with supportive parents and friends, even with someone to love, coming out can be incredibly difficult. It can be hard to accept a different narrative for your life, when you’ve been sold only one possibility from childhood. I think that we do our children a grave disservice by giving them this one story line over and over again – the princess finds her prince, the maid finds her knight, the mommy finds the daddy, and they all live happily ever after. If we gave our children other possibilities, other avenues for their fairy tale endings from an early age I don’t doubt that it would help them accept both themselves and others more easily. I’m very happy to see this book released for teens this year.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Delay Trees - Light Pollution
Here is yet another song that I couldn't find on youtube so I'm linking to Amazon, where you can currently download it for free! This book technically already has a song - Ari informs us that U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is his theme song about 1/2 way through the book and I have to admit that it's perfect. But I have this problem where, if a book chooses to quite handily supply me with the perfect theme song, I will always choose to pick something else. Because having one chosen for me feels like cheating. So here you go! I immediately thought of this song as a pairing for this book because Benjamin Alire Sáenz uses the light pollution as a sort of metaphor to represent everything that's blocking Ari from his inner self. I think these lyrics from the song are especially relevant:
"You were seeking for answers, seeking for anything
Above the light pollution you found a new meaning"