When was the last time a book made you cry? I remember when I first read ‘Little Women’. I was okay until the scene where Jo cuts off her lovely long hair and sells it, so that Marmee can travel and take care of her ailing father. That was heart-wrenching. And now, Ari and Dante, I lost my heart to these two.
We meet Aristotle or Ari as he likes to be called, in the beginning. The book is told entirely from Ari’s perspective. He is a fifteen year old but unlike other kids his age, he has a deep sadness within him. He has an older brother who is in prison. To Ari’s family, he is the elephant in the room who is never discussed. Ari misses his brother and wants to know what happened to him, but he can never muster the courage to ask his parents. Also, the Vietnam war has changed Ari’s father, making him distant and emotionally unavailable. Ari has a lot of anger within him and he cannot figure out why. He finds no joy in hanging out with other teens who only talk about girls. Until he meets Dante Quintana at the swimming pool one summer day.
Dante is the polar opposite of Ari. Cool and confident, he loves poetry,sketching and talking. He is very close to his parents who have no qualms in displaying their affection unlike Ari’s parents. In spite of their differences, a rare friendship is formed between Ari and Dante.
“I was mostly invisible. I think I liked it that way. And then Dante came along”.
It’s strange, but I fell in love with this book at the very end. The first half talks about normal, ordinary days in Ari’s and Dante’s lives. It’s as if you’re reading Ari’s journal. His adolescent angst annoyed me. I kept waiting for some signs of strife, some disagreements, something out of the blue to shock me, but it’s not that kind of book. There is no drama or unexpected twists.
Everything seems so uncomplicated in the beginning, just two friends hanging out and talking about everything under the sun. It’s only as you near the end that you see the how their friendship has evolved into something much more special and where those ordinary days have led them. When you are presented with the grand picture in the end, it’s nothing short of brilliant. That’s all I can tell without spoiling the secrets of the universe for you. You just have to read it to understand. This is a fantastic example of fine story-telling and clearly, Sáenz excels at that.
The author’s writing style is simple and unembellished. Every character is etched with careful thought. They’re all flawed in some ways but they’re all genuine. The core of this story is family. Families that stick together in spite of each other’s shortcomings. Dante’s warm close-knit family helps Ari understand his own parents better and in the end, you’ll see how a supportive family can help a confused teenager to make sense of all his conflicted feelings and to free him of his self-inflicted agony.
I’m going to treasure this book right alongside my tattered copy of Little Women. Ari and Dante are like my friends now. Some days I feel like Ari and on other days, I’m Dante. We’re all Ari and Dante.