One summer, Ari decides to go swimming. But he doesn’t know how to swim. Enter Dante. That’s the beginning of their complicated, beautiful and intense friendship.
Ari isn’t very sociable and he believes he has no friends because he has trouble communicating with people. He thinks these problems come from the fact that his parents don’t communicate with him. His father won’t talk about what happened to him at the war that made him so sad, and even though he has a pretty good relationship with his mother, she still won’t talk about his older brother who is in prison. Dante is the opposite of Ari; he likes poetry and art and he talks a lot about everything. He is in touch with his own feelings and he slowly teaches Ari how to be in touch with his, even if Ari is angry most of the time.
Ari is the POV character and his mental process and struggles felt very realistic. As a teenager, discovering who he really is, what he really wants, how to deal with other people, with his family and friends…It’s always hard, and it becomes harder for Ari as his friendship with Dante progresses. Dante is also a very strong character and you can see that he is also struggling, but he handles things differently. While Ari bottles everything in, Dante always lets his feelings out.
Both characters are Mexican-americans and it was interesting to see the struggle to belong in either world. The story is told through the period of two years or so, from when the boys are fifteen, until they are seventeen. Ari and Dante mostly see each other during the summer but they are always present in each other’s lives. I don’t to reveal much of what happens, because it’s a kind of episodic plot, so there’s a lot of different things that happen to them. It’s a walk into their lives at their period.
The story is set in the 80’s and I don’t know but it had a really strong 80’s feel for me - I don’t know if it was the summers at the pool, or Ari’s red pick up truck or some of the songs he liked, but the setting really worked for me.
I really liked both characters and their parents. I think it was very important to feature those relationships between family. It’s not something I see often in YA books.
I think Ari especially is a very relatable character, because we can all identify with the bit of identity crisis he is going through. At least I can in a way, mainly with his anti-social tendencies, which were ever so strong with me when I was younger. Okay, even now.
I also think it’s important to mention that the friendship between the two boys does take a romantic turn. It might help someone struggling with the same things they were.
I don’t really have any criticism or any part of the book that really bother me. It was sad and tough on the feelings at times, but also fun and easy to read through.
To sum up:
Overall, I really, really liked this book. It was a special read, beautifully written, while keeping the character’s voice real and direct.