I mentioned this book a few days ago. I first posted this review about it almost a year ago. Since then, that review has gotten more hits than all but two books I’ve reviewed in the past four years on this site. One of the two others being another beautiful book by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I wanted to bring it back to the surface because this book (and just about everything Benjamin Alire Saenz has written) deserves to be read and to be successful. And if race is at all responsible for keeping it off bookstore shelves, even in the community where it is set, then we should do whatever we can to make sure that it doesn’t recede into obscurity and that it gets into the hands of kids who need it. So I’m reposting my original review below.
“As you can see from the cover, it got a whole mess of awards in 2013. The Pura Belpre, awarded to a Latino writer writing about the Latino cultural experience. The Stonewall Award, awarded for excellent books about GLBTQ issues. And, of course, the Printz honor. It deserved every one of them. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, well, ever.
It’s by Benjamin Alire Saenz, whose novel Last Night I Sang to the Monster I’ve talked about a number of times. For the kinds of things I talk about on here, his writing just can’t be beat. And just briefly, this book is Annie on My Mind for boys. But it’s for gay mexican boys living in the desert southwest.
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Well, first of all, I got choked up re-reading that summary from the book jacket. The book was just THAT GOOD. But here’s why this book is really important. I have gay students here in Santa Fe and I have tried to get them to read this book and they have ALL said to me, “No, miss, I don’t read.” And then I realized: not one of them has ever read a book that really reflects their experience. There are no books about gay Mexican boys living in the desert southwest. There are very few books with Mexican protagonists. There are very few books set in the Southwest. And while the number of books about gay boys has definitely been on the rise for years, they are mostly white boys in New England. Just the fact that there is a love story set in this culture in this place, is almost a miracle.
All kids deserve to have their experience reflected back to them, but most of the books for teens, I’m just being honest, are written by middle-aged white women and feature middle-class, white protagonists. Which is fine, but I am so glad for the Matt de la Penas and the Coe Booths and the Benjamin Alire Saenzs who are writing about non-white teens living in places other than the suburbs.
And this book is just so beautiful. I found myself reading and re-reading it because it was just the best love story that I’ve maybe ever read, period. But particularly for both gay and lesbian teens. Especially for ones growing up in a place where they aren’t even told that being Gay is an option. Every book collection should include this book. Every library should have this book. Every book store should carry this book. Period.”
What books featuring racial minority characters do you love and believe in?