Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on 1st April 2014 (first published 21st February 2012)
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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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 in the power of their friendship – can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.Oh, I wanted to love this book. Not just like it, but love it, the way most other people seem to. But I ended up just liking it. I like it in an above-average way (I did give it 3.5 stars!), but I don't love it. I found that I sort of loved aspects of the story in isolation from the story itself, if that makes sense? But the story itself – I just liked it.
Part of the problem for me was the writing style. It made me feel so detached from the story, like I was watching everything take place through a thin gauze. I didn't feel much of anything. Ari, the narrator of the story, spends most of the book hiding from his feelings. I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that I felt hidden from his feelings too. I just felt completely distant from the story.
Plus, a lot of the story consisted of dialogue, and I felt that the dialogue was quite stylised? It didn't always feel very realistic to me, but that's probably a deliberate choice on the part of the author. One that didn't quite work for me. The dialogue didn't have a lot of dialogue tags either. The long conversations of short sentences exchanged by Ari and Dante were sometimes confusing to read as the whole conversation would go by with nary a tag in sight. I kept losing track of who was speaking and having to go back to the beginning of the conversation to work it out.
Because the writing style just wasn't my thing, I had to abandon the book for a few weeks after reading the first 100 pages because I just... I wasn't immersed at all. (I started reading this for the LGBT April Read-along, oops.) Even though I could tell that with a different writing style, this story would have completely blazed with life for me as a reader. I know that lots of other people adore this book, so this is probably a very personal complaint.
But yeah. I love so many things about this story. I love Ari and Dante as characters, I love their character arcs and their individual struggles, I love their friendship, I love the lengths Ari would go to for Dante. I love their parents. This was hands down the best aspect of the book for me – one of the most amazing portrayals of parents I've come across in YA. Their parents are just such individuals! They're all characters in their own right, and the story is very much about Ari learning to see his parents as people. Humans who bear sadness just like he does. This is something that I would like to see happen more often in YA.
Seriously, Ari's character arc is so good! I love how much he develops over the course of the book, how he begins to reach out more to his father, how he lets himself start to think about and eventually talk about his brother, who is in prison and whom nobody else in the family ever talks about, and how he finally confronts his own feelings. But I just don't feel what he's feeling as a reader, and that sucked.
Ari and Dante's friendship was beautiful though. Ari was so brave and unhesitating when it came to protecting Dante. And I love how Dante taught Ari to examine his own life and open up to the world.
So yeah. It could have been a five-star read for me if it had been written in a different style. On the other hand, it looks like most people don't have a problem with the style at all, and it works for them. Don't let my review put you off! Honestly, it was a wonderful story about a lovely friendship, the difficulties of growing up, and the importance of family, and despite my dislike of the style, there were still little moments scattered throughout the book that managed to touch me. I will leave you with this quote:
I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone's hand.(And the wonderful thing is that Ari does.)