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.
- 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.