Friday, November 29, 2019

Benjamin Alire Sáenz - Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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.

Comment: I've had this book in the pile for more than three years but well, better to get to something later than never...

In this YA (a genre I don't like much but this is not a silly formulaic romance) story we meet Aristotle, a 15 year old boy who doesn't know how to swim and one day he meets Dante by the pool and the two boys become friends because Dante does know how to swim and he teaches Ari.
As the summer moves along, so does the boys' friendship, which is helped by the things they have in common, the confidences, the fact their parents get along too... of course being a teenager has its ups and downs and Ari especially suffers because his older brother is prison and his parents don't talk about him, don't let Ari be curious. 
Then, Dante's father has an offer to be a guest professor in Chicago for a year and two boys need to be apart, but not before an almost tragedy changes both their POVs on many things...

I liked this story but after seeing how well received it had been when I got interested in it, I confess I expected some stronger punch.
I mean, this story has some emotional moments and most of the focus is on the emotional and psychological side of the main character, not much scenes from his life. However, I was not as engaged as I imagined I would.

In fact, I maintained a certain "detachment" through the whole book because the story is narrated in the first person by Ari and although his voice is witty and sentimental in key spots, he tells things as if they are simply fragments of his life, as if he is simply sharing concepts and details, he is not really narrating what happens to him in a traditional way.
I would say the purpose of this story isn't the cuteness or the fluffiness of the fist love between two characters who happen to be boys. I think the author wanted to convey a few things through a more literary style.

The story is very simple, we basically have Ari sharing things about his life, about the way he thinks on some subjects and situations but in a very poetic way, and the graphic text is spread through five parts if I remember well, and each part has many chapters, usually with not many sentences included. This means the story moves along very quickly, it's very easy to turn the pages (I read this in a day) but because the writing style wants to be more literary and thoughtful, I don't think I ever felt truly connected with the characters and what they faced.

Ari is a complex character, yes, because he is in a point in his life he isn't certain of many things like every teenager. Besides, his family life has some secrets, he has practically one single friendship he can trust, his family is inserted in a community where there are yet many prejudices... I think the author picked up many interesting elements to portray Ari and his family in a meaningful way but the writing itself, no matter how beautiful and poetic, wasn't as compelling as it could.

Right at the end, Ari reaches quite the conclusion on what happened to him during the two years the novel encompasses. I absolutely loved his parents and Dante's parents (I think the adults were the best part of this YA story) and they were a huge part on helping Ari consider some things about himself. However, this conclusion was reached in a very easy way with just one simple chapter to tidy the bow on the story and I felt after so many pages debating, the end being basically in just one chapter...? I don't think the conclusion was as balanced I think the story needed but then, the tone is very "brainy" and to me it felt too much for the story.

Al in all, this was cute and profound at times, but as a whole it wasn't as amazing as I hoped for.
Grade: 7/10

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