So, maybe that’s one of the longest titles in literature. Or one of the best. In any case, don’t let the title steer you away. Because this one is an absolute must-read. Ari and Dante will be with me for a long time. I know I will find myself thinking about them as my boys grow up. I will put myself in their parents’ shoes, trying to understand my boys, doing the best I can, and hoping more than anything that my sons grow up to be as amazing people as Ari and Dante.
I downloaded this from my library to listen to while I walk around the local indoor track and was surprised and overjoyed to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice through my earbuds for 8 hours. Told from Ari’s perspective, the summer of 1987 is a rough one. He has no friends, lives in El Paso with not much to do, and really struggles with his family. He loves his parents, but his dad is a Vietnam vet, his brother is in jail, and his sisters are much older. Ari loves his mom, but, well, she’s a mom. She pesters and nags and is just a typical mom who loves her son. Ari meets Dante at the local pool, and they hit it off. Dante loves books and wants to be an artist. He doesn’t have many friends either because people think he’s weird. Ari doesn’t have friends because he thinks regular teenage boys are annoying. Friendship forged.
This story is just so heart-wrenching, yet simultaneously heart-warming. I grew to love Ari and Dante and rooted for them to stay friends, find love, and for Ari to make peace with who he is and what his family is. I selected this one for the “Bildungsroman” prompt for the 2020 PopSugar reading challenge and am so thankful that I did. I don’t see many coming of age stories from a boy’s perspective, let along ones who are thoughtful and kind and sensitive and struggling with what it means to be a man, not a teenager. There are several boys I would have given this book to, back when I was teaching. It’s definitely a model for how to be different in an unforgiving world.