It has been some time since I read a book in one night. It has also been some time since I read something so uniquely beautiful.
This book is beautiful. It’s not “fantastic” or “spectacular” because those imply grand sweeps of emotion and epic battles and so forth. Ari and Dante is quiet, calm and lowkey. Beautiful.
The plot takes places from the summer of 1987 to the summer of 1988. Dante and Aristotle are both loners, both weird in their own way, who meet in 1987, become best friends and spent the rest of the year trying to discover who they are (aka. The Secrets of the Universe). And yes it’s also about them figuring out if they are gay, but at the same time it’s not. Ari is our P.O.V character and his inner monologues rather revolve around his anger issues and family drama than the tired trope of “am I gay? Am I not gay? Ahhhh internalized homophobia” (so basically fanfictions). There is a bit of pot smoking and beer drinking but no falling into a pool, emerging and cry-sobbing I’M GAAAAAAAAY (the day I stop making fun of Alex Srangelove is the day I die, or the one I turn into a nicer person).
So the first 107 pages of this book are slow. Benjamin Alire Sánez gives you time to get to know his characters and teaches you all the symbols (rain) and themes (dreams) he will use for the rest of the story. However when I say “slow” I don’t mean “boring”. I mean “I would forever read descriptions of hot summer days and people getting the flu if they were written by this guy”. And then comes the both metaphorical and literal car crash and the story seems to pick up some pace only to slow down and dive deep into Ari’s inner monologues again. Again, not “boring”, beautiful. There is no grand epic to be found here, just a small low stakes story about two boys (I’ve been watching Daredevil lately, I’m not used to low stakes anymore. I love it.)
But let me just talk about Ari for a bit. I love how I can relate to him. Note that he is a mexican-american boy in 1988 and I am a German girl in 2018. Relating to Ari went from “haha he hates himself moooooood” to “he is describing exactly how I felt at that unique point in discovering myself, he is putting words to things I couldn’t (and wouldn’t)”. I love Ari and I hope everyone who is (or was) Ari finds their Dante. Also I am adding Dante to the long list of characters I want to protect from the world. Sánez writes amazing characters, that feel incredibly real. Not just Ari and Dante, everyone.
So what’s next….ah spoilers. If you want to read this book and haven’t yet, skip this paragraph. I am not gonna go that deep, I’m just gonna pick apart one line from the first half. “I love swimming…and you”. Dante’s childish declaration of love comes quick and out of nowhere and is not only perfectly in line with his character but also wonderful. I put it up there with “Won’t you share this story with me” and Katniss’ monologue on Peeta and flowers. It seems so funny out of context, but believe me, it works so well.
Also realistic dreams. No long narratives or copious amounts of forshadowing. Ari’s dreams are short, confusing and simply underscore the internal debates he is already (beautifully) having.
And finally, this book ends perfectly. There is no “20 years later” epilogue and no will-they-wont-they cliffhanger. The novel ends carrying the exact emotional note it has from the beginning.
He whispered, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.” That made me smile. “What are you going to do with all those secrets, Dante?”