Xolo Score 4.25/5
Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz picks up roughly where Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe left off. Ari and Dante are basking in the glory of their last summer before college. They're learning how to love each other and navigate the treacherous waters of homophobia and the AIDS pandemic. But with the love and support of family and friends, Ari and Dante are ready to take the next step toward their future.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Aristotle and Dante are both Mexican-Americans that struggle with their dual identities because they believe they don't fit society's expectations of a Mexican or American. Now that they have accepted their sexuality, they feel even more like an outcast - "We'll never be Mexican enough. We'll never be American enough. And we'll never be straight enough." But luckily, both their families and friends double down on the unconditional love they have for the couple. And they constantly stand up for Ari and Dante's right to love. No one does this more than Ari's mother, Lilian Mendoza. Lilian is a deeply religious woman who constantly leans on her Catholic community for support. But that never stops her from accepting Ari for everything that he is as an individual. Lilian's motherly love brings tears to your eyes, and it's heartwarming to see a religious Latinx family openly accept and defend their gay son.
Alire Sáenz writes through Ari's perspective. We get a lot of his reflective thinking and how he constantly weighs the internal contradictions regarding his survival. And in the sequel, Ari opens up to his family and friends about his thoughts and emotions. He understands silence is violence, but silence keeps him safe. But Ari is constantly reassured that although pain and struggle are part of the human condition, there is no need to endure it alone. However, Alire Sáenz uses the analogy of nation-states and visas to describe how we authorize people to peek behind our emotional curtains. Aristotle issues "emotional visas" so his friends and families can enter the country of Aristotle. The visa analogy in the book bears a similar tone to the "get in line and wait your turn" fallacy most anti-immigration advocates rally behind. Considering the story is set in the border town of El Paso, TX, the analogy portrays the sub-context of immigration through a white gaze.
But what stood out was the parallel plot of the AIDS pandemic and its direct and indirect impact on the characters and Ari's commitment to humanizing the transgender woman that his older brother brutally murdered. In the first story, Alire Sáenz had described the events of the murder in a transphobic manner. In an attempt at atonement Alire Sáenz and Ari seek to know about the woman's context and backstory. It gives dignity to a trans character that was looked over in the first book and emphasized how deaths are brushed off and trivialized because of the prejudices against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In the long-awaited sequel, Aristotle and Dante grapple with their love for each other in a messy world filled with contradictions.
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Are there BIPOC leading characters and perspectives?
Does the author avoid writing the BIPOC characters through the white gaze?
Does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
Does it explore the nuances between intersectional identities?