Rambling, Mostly

It seems at this point that Ari and Dante are becoming two very different people. Ari is becoming closer to his friends at school and lifting weights, and Dante is hanging out with goths and has cut his hair. The months covered in section four have clearly been formative.

Aside from looking different and finding new friends, they’ve both reached an important milestone in growing up: their first kisses (I suppose we don’t know for sure that the kiss described in this section was Dante’s first, but he’s kind of a creep so I’m gonna assume so). And I guess since it’s 1987 both kisses have to be with girls.

The female love interests (if Dante’s friend can accurately be called so) occupy an interesting space in the novel. There is, of course, the question of how much Ari really likes Ileana, which I don’t think the author answers definitively (“Did you love her?” “No. Maybe a little.”). Dante’s revelations about his orientation after kissing his friend also raise questions about his future with Ari: Will Ari still be comfortable being Dante’s friend when he comes home?

My biggest question, however, is what the author wants us to make of Ileana. What purpose does she serve in this narrative? She materializes early on in the section, messes with Ari’s head a bit, and is quickly ushered out. Is she evidence that Ari is bisexual – something which would no doubt hinder the chances of a relationship with Dante, since he has the option to appear straight. Or is she proof of Ari’s feelings for Dante, seeing as his dreams seem to indicate he feels guilty about looking at someone else?

Maybe what happens after Dante’s return will shed some light on it.

 

Questions:

  • Female characters tend to have an awkward role in fiction about queer men. In some works they are absent altogether, and in others they serve only as props to help the characters discover their sexualities. How do you think the novel handles its female characters?
  • Why is Dante so open about his sexuality with Ari? It seems like a big risk given the time period.
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6 thoughts on “Rambling, Mostly

  1. I definitely agree with the thought that the relationship Ari has with Ileana is never really defined; they kiss once and he is not sure if he loves her. I also feel like the females of this novel, the mothers less so, are treated like comedic relief or a stepping stone. Ileana seems to be just a stepping stone for Ari to start figuring out what kissing means to him, and the only reason why he seems to be into her is because his friends say that she wouldn’t be interested in him; it’s as if he wanted to prove him wrong.

    After reading your post I began to get curious if this book even passes the Bechdel test; upon searching the internet, I could not find a definitive answer and I definitely do not have time to read it all over again to evaluate it myself. Oh well.

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  2. I agree with your confusion on Ileana’s character! It seems to me that she was there only as a prop for the plot. Someone Ari could experiment with and then quickly get over to move on to focusing on Dante again. Though Ileana’s character is questionable regarding the way Saenz depicts his female characters, I think the way he portrays his other female characters surrounding Dante and Ari’s life are pretty praiseworthy. For example, Ari’s mother is one of my favorite characters. She’s very fleshed out and 3 dimensional and she also plays a big role in Ari’s life and in the plot of the novel. The way Saenz carved Ari’s relationship with his mother is a unique and rare one to see in YA fiction. Usually YA books don’t include parents or familial relationships in depth if at all and this book is heavily catalyzed by both Dante and Ari’s families, especially through their interactions with their mothers.

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  3. I can really agree with your confusion as to Ari’s sexuality or what information the author is trying to give us about it. Ilena comes in a out of focus a few times and it’s never really clear what her narrative purpose it. Even by the end of the book, when everything is supposed to be said and done, you look back on those chapters and just quietly ask”…but why though?” I enjoy the difference the author is displaying, and especially so because it is a common staple of such a genre, but strategic ambiguity can easily fall into unnecessary and frustrating vagueness.

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  4. As I was reading, I had the same question (Did Ari really like Ileana?). During my pondering, I related this my pre-pubescent crushes that I had on girls before coming to terms with my sexuality. I think that that is likely what Ari is experiencing: a stronger-that-usual connection to a girl that he mistakes for a crush, because boys are supposed to like girls.

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    • Ileana’s role is brief, but important to the novel. I think that because she is quickly ushered out of the narrative after being introduced, her character poses as “prop” in the navigation of Ari’s larger questions surrounding his sexuality. I like to relate Illeana to Hella in Giovanni’s Room. While Hella plays a more dominant role in the Baldwin’s novel, I believe that both characters serve a similar role to David and Ari. Both female characters give rise to the internalizations within David and Ari that are of a conflicting nature. Should they be with women because it’s easier, and because being with women is what has been taught to make them a “man”? Ari’s dreams that suggesting his sense guilt could be analyzed as anxiety surrounding his feelings for Dante, but I propose that these dreams are indicative of a guilt that spurs from his relationship to Ileana,

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  5. In regards to the second question you posed about why Dante was so open about his sexuality with Ari, I think it kind of goes back to this being a Young Adult novel. I realize that that kind of seems like a cop out to excuse hints of optimism where there might not be in other novels, but I think in this case it’s a necessary bit of hope. Having Dante be someone who is so open about his feelings and sexuality is a way that Ari can come to terms with his own sexuality. I also think it portrays to a younger audience that it is okay whether or not you “struggle” to come to terms with yourself; both Ari and Dante have different ways of discovering their sexuality.
    We’ve talked a lot about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in class, and in a way, Dante almost reminded me of a boy version because his sexuality and effervescence is what facilitates the self discovery of the main brooding male, Ari.
    I also agree with the fact that it could be a risk to be so open about sexuality, but I don’t think that realism is really the point of the book. Like, I don’t think that in real life, Dante /could/ act the same way as he does within the novel, when the author knows that nothing terrible will happen as a consequence of his queerness (something that’s not assured in real life).

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