Words were different when they lived inside of you.
Fifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents and his family that he has never asked before.

I read this book for the first time years ago, after hearing people in the Booktube community raving about how good it was. I loved it the first time but I loved it, possibly even more, the second time around, so much that I even made a playlist for this book!

It's a YA coming of age story that will hook you to the pages and its characters, you will love them so much that you will want to jump right in the story to give them a hug. A full ten Mississippi hug.

During a hot Summer in El Paso, Texas, Ari decides to go to the swimming pool, even though he can't swim. There, he meets Dante, a boy who happens to share the same unfortunate weird name choice and the same ethnicity and who offers to teach him to swim. That leads to something that not Ari nor Dante could ever expect and that it's destinate to change the course of their summer as well as their lives. They form a friendship that will challenge them and make them feel less lonely, it will make them discover the secrets of the universe while discovering the secrets of their own private planets even when things are hard and they cannot be any more different: Dante loves poetry and books and he's fascinated by words and he likes to talk about his feelings; Ari is quite the opposite, lost in the thoughts of his brother, he never really talk that much and most definitely doesn't talk about his feelings. Except he does, with Dante. He somehow breaks the walls Ari has built around him, leaving him with a bunch of feelings so confusing and overwhelming that he doesn't really know what to do with them until he starts trusting Dante and his good heart.

This book could even be a work of poetry for how beautifully written it is. It's so strong and powerful and yet so careful, dosing every word especially when dealing with important topics like family drama, racial and ethnic identity and homosexuality.
I've read lots of books with gay characters but not even one was like this. B.A.Saenz writes about the topic with such a tender heart, a delicacy that is really rare to find and he makes you want to really know these people, meet them IRL and hug them while constantly reassuring them that there's nothing wrong with being who you really are even if that version of yourself doesn't always reflect other people's standards.
It's almost like a quite poem that makes a lot of noise deep inside, making hurricanes out of your feelings, it hits you hard right in the middle of your chest and then kisses you on the cheek.

This book is full of important topics. Each one of them is written with such a care, a tender note that is impossible not to cry all over each page, like the weight Ari's dad carries within him, the memories of the war, the way a marine will always remember the people they fought with, the ones they lost and those they had to kill. Ari's father was a Marine who lost too much during the war and wears his scars quietly inside his heart, so quietly that he can't even have a real connection with his son but even if for different reasons, they kinda find each other in the silence they share, the quiet world inside them that sometimes drowns them is also the same one that brings them back together with tiny little gestures of love and understanding. I really liked the way the silence is almost like a character in the story, especially between Ari and his dad, the silence says even more than words could ever have but whenever they spoke, my heart kept breaking and repairing over and over again.
The bi-racial aspect is also very prominent in the novel since both Ari and Dante almost constantly talk about it. Dante feels like he's constantly in the middle, not a true American but not a Mexican either since his skin is pale, especially compared to Ari's. The feeling of not belonging is pretty much all Dante thinks about, wishing he had darker skin, a more prominent accent, some traits that could give away the fact that he does belong and he's a part of something. 
What I like the most though, is the family aspect. I loved how both Ari and Dante can talk to their parents and kiss them on the cheek because they want to. Both Ari and Dante's parents are loving and present and remind them all the time how much they love their kids even with their silence or the jokes, they're there for them and with them. We don't always see parents and kids getting along in YA, sometimes parents are non-existent, other times are drug-addicts or thinking about work all the time that you kinda forget they're even part of the story but not in this one. 

The bond Ari and Dante share is very real, their friendship is absolutely believable, nothing like instant love or best friends forever and ever. Nope. They argue. A lot. And that's exactly what makes it real, you know? But they also grow to love and understand each other, helping face their own private battles by being there carrying half the weight. Dante is very sure about himself in the sense that he does already know things about himself, things that Ari doesn't know yet or doesn't want to see or accept or face but he's also ashamed of being who he is because of the fear Ari and his parents might not love him anymore. While Ari is still confused about himself, what he likes what he doesn't like, until Dante came around and turned his world upside down, making Ari question everything he took for granted about himself.
But the parents are the true gem in the story because with their endless love for their children they teach us an important truth, that love, true love, is never judgemental, it doesn't see colours or age, love is love, as simple as that and if there are people willing to love you then they are also willing to accept you for who you really are because it's true:
There are worse things in the world than a boy who likes to kiss other boys.

I would recommend - actually more like beg - everyone to read this book, if anything, Ari and Dante will teach you the most important lesson of all: we all have our own private wars inside us but if those have the power to set us free then we should get out there and start fighting.

You just can't read this book without a constant stupid smile on your face.