“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing”
Published By: Simon and Schuster
Genre: YA Contemporary
Hi everyone! This is definitely the trickiest review that I’ve written on this blog so far. It’s tricky because I loved this book so much and for so many reasons and I desperately don’t want to leave anything out, so bear with me. First of all, this book was like a breath of fresh air from the majority of YA novels, or novels in general, that I have read in terms of diversity. Both of the main characters in this book are teenage Mexican –American boys, in relation to this there were bits of Spanish peppered through the book as well as mention of traditional Mexican foods which, for me, provided some great cultural education that I really enjoyed exploring. This book also features LGBTQA+ characters and relationships in the way that they should be written about, that is to say not just as sassy, flamboyant gay best friends but as real, multi-dimensional people with real, strong and healthy relationships. It annoys me that this is a rarity in fiction, especially YA.
Now, on to the characters! Let’s start with Ari. Ari Mendoza (his full name is Angel Aristotle Mendoza!!) is a teenage boy who is at war with himself. Ari doesn’t have friends, loves spending time alone and can’t swim. His thoughts and dreams are plagued with questions of his older brother who is in prison, and who his parents never mention and refuse to talk about. More than anything Ari struggles with being himself, he can’t see the good in himself which is almost heart-breaking to read about. This novel is written entirely from Ari’s perspective and even though we are essentially in his head it is still sometimes a struggle to try and understand exactly what he’s thinking – this is exceptionally clever writing. Ari is a character that will be very relatable to a lot of teenagers, especially due to the realistic way his feelings were written.
Then we have Dante Quintana; self-assured, full of life and unapologetically his true self – almost the complete opposite of Ari. Dante is such a lovable character; he’s honest and fun and although generally positive, he is not unrealistically so. Dante has some of the coolest parents that I’ve ever read about, they know their son so well and love him so much that we love them as much as we love Dante, because of how much they love Dante. I don’t even know if that made sense. Another thing that I loved about this book was how much the parents featured in it as in some YA the parents seem to always be conveniently out or ‘travel for work’ which seems highly unrealistic. But in this novel not only were the parents of both boys heavily involved, they were all fully formed characters in their own right which I loved! Going back to Dante, he brings out the best in Ari both by pushing him to talk by asking questions but also by simply being his friend and needing a friend in return.
An interesting point about this novel is that it doesn’t really take the conventional route in relation to plot. There are a few major plot points in this book but for the most part the plot is literally the developing friendship of the two boys and their families. You may think that this would make the story slow and a little mundane but Benjamin Alire Sáenz has achieved the opposite effect. Having all the little twists and turns in the relationship as the plot was fascinating, it also meant that we didn’t miss anything that happened between them which just made me more attached to the characters. I also enjoyed that it was set in the late eighties therefore meaning that there were no mobile/cell phones or home computers which made the friendship so much simpler and somehow more real as well as making me nostalgic for when you had to phone your friends’ home phone to see if they were in!
The writing in this novel, oh the writing, it was beautiful. There were so many amazing quotes and sentences that took my breath away, almost every few lines. The writing style is quite simple but has a poetic quality that, paired with the characters, makes for a very emotional read – be warned this book will provoke lots of feelings. I feel like this book is one of those that you could read over and over again and every time you’d gain something new from it or notice something that you’d missed before, it feels like a book full of secrets. I for one will definitely be reading this multiple times as it has become an instant favourite of mine. You should read this book, seriously, if you don’t you’re really missing out! Have you already read this book? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments!
That’s all for now, thanks for reading!
Note: Thank you to my best friend Eilidh for getting me this book for my birthday (click her name to check out her blog – it’s awesome!)
Recommend? YES, EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS!!