Apparently this book had a lot of hype when it came out in 2012, but I am really glad that I was able to read it without any expectations other than that the cover is absolutely beautiful and I expected the story to match the drapes.
There are three main themes that this book touches on, all the while dancing around the idea that two teenage boys must find their own way to accepting that they love each other. The first is how to relate to your parents. The second is how to own your heritage. The third is simply growing up.
Dante is an only child from an openly loving family who are very affectionate with one another. Aristotle is from a family where he is the baby, his three older siblings are all grown and while his sisters have made him an uncle in his teenage years, his brother is in prison and his family does not talk about it. His father fought in Vietnam and his mother is a teacher. Each kid relates to his parents in different ways, but both families love the boys and encourage their friendship.
Something that I wish had been fleshed out a bit more was the fact that both families are of Latino heritage. The talk of being “Mexican enough” comes up from time to time. The fear that they will be perceived as “poor” despite all having jobs and educations. It made me want to learn and read more about the Mexican-American experience and how the struggle to show the people around you that you aren’t a “dirty, poor, illegal immigrant” is a constant pressure. What an unfair pressure to place on families…I just cannot imagine it. Granted, America doesn’t treat its poor very well in general, but we live in such an intolerant age when it comes to differing races and ethnicities that it makes me angry-sad. But I digress.
It was so fun to watch Aristotle grow up. Going to school, getting his first car (an old, beat up pickup truck), getting a dog, and working a part time job are all parts of his experience and are a joy to read about. And woven in his process is how he becomes closer to his dad, how he gets his mom to open up about his imprisoned brother, how he defends those he is close to, and how he expands and strengthens his universe. What a beautiful novel for young people to read and relate to, and perhaps to learn about how to be more tolerant to those who may be different, to learn that it’s fun to kiss a person you love no matter what gender they are. In fact, this book made me feel that time is so short, you should hold the people you love close and never be ashamed about who that might be.