“Scars. A sign that you had been hurt. A sign that you had healed. Had I been hurt? Had I healed? Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing.” (335)
Started: June 2nd | Finished: June 9th
It’s unbelievable how much I fell in love with this book. The writing, the story, the characters…Benjamin Alire Sáenz truly left me speechless.
It did take me a while to get into the book, but after the first section (the book’s divided into sections and then chapters within that section), I was captivated. It was the first book I read after reading the first four books of The Mortal Instruments, which is a series full of extreme detail, with paragraphs describing things from the color of the sky to the brand of the character’s clothes. Sáenz doesn’t write like this. That’s not to say that I couldn’t imagine aspects of the setting and the characters in my mind—the simplistic writing actually gave me more room and reason to make the story my own, to take the characters and the setting and imagine them in my own way. It was a welcomed change.
It’s written in such a simple way, no big SAT words or difficult metaphors, but the writing is so beautiful. There were so many quotes that I kept jotting down to remember for later, because I was so in love with how things were written. It’s poetic.
On the other hand, I have heard some people say that this book comes off as pretentious, which I feel is often a critique of coming-of-age YA books (ahem, John Green). I will admit that those books are my kryptonite (I have indeed read all John Green books and enjoyed them), but I can definitely see how this book comes off as being ~fake deep~ and cheesy. I didn’t read it in that way, and when reading books like this, I always feel a certain mood with them. This book made me feel warm and calm, even when the events of the book were the opposite. So it’s really a matter of taste, but personally, I loved everything about it (if we’re using John Green as a baseline here, better than John Green).
The book’s written in the point-of-view of a teenage Mexican boy living in Texas. A book with a POC protagonist? Sign me up.
His name is Aristotle, no relation to the philosopher. Ari, for short. It focuses on him growing up in the world, figuring out where he belongs, in his school, in his town, in his family. His family has a hidden history of sorts. His mother’s an overbearing teacher, his father’s a detached veteran, and they both refuse to talk about Ari’s brother, Bernardo, who’s in jail. Ari struggles with his relationship with his father and his nonexistent relationship with his brother. But as he grows up, those relationships evolve with him. This subplot has such a satisfying ending, where stories and secrets are finally revealed.
Ari’s always been kind of a loner with no real friends until he meets Dante, also no relation to the philosopher. They become friends (okay, I see the cliché here, but stay with me), even though they’re two very different people, which Sáenz makes clear in their interactions and in Ari’s internal dialogue on all things regarding Dante. Ari’s cynical, Dante’s an idealist, Ari’s Mexican and proud, Dante struggles with his identity, differences like that. But they still manage to make the friendship work, on the good days and on the bad ones, when it seems like it should be falling apart instead (conflicts include: other friends, distance, injuries, etc). They get interwoven into each other’s lives. Just reading about how they both grow, individually and together as a unit, makes me hold a special place for them in my heart.
This book’s very much a coming-of-age story, with a lot of focus on Ari’s mentality and thought processes. He is an angsty teen, but not in the clichéd sense. There’s not a lot of “Ugh, my parents suck, the world sucks, life sucks,” but more him questioning why the world is the way it is (hence, discovering the secrets of the universe) and being frustrated when the answers aren’t as simple as he wants them to be. Many of those complicated answers are revealed with the book’s progression, as Ari and Dante learn things about themselves that they never knew and Ari learns more about his family.
It’s a book about growing up and figuring out your identity. I cried, thought deeply about my own life since I’m on the brink of adulthood, cried some more. I can’t recommend this book more.
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