This book was published in Feb 2012, and it flew under my radar, but not the radar of the award committees. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has won numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, an Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honor, Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for Latino fiction, and Michael L. Printz Award honor for Young Adult fiction. (information taken from wikipedia)
I cannot say this with any more sincerity, if you are struggling to discover who you are, you need to give this book a try.
Named after two great philosophers, Aristotle and Dante are two loners who, like their namesakes, find themselves thinking about pretty much anything and everything. What they aren’t so great at is talking. Aristotle, or Ari as he calls himself, has a gift of silence. A trait he learned from his father, a Vietnam veteran. Ari has so many word inside of him, but no way to get them out.
During the summer between his sophomore and junior year of high school Ari meets Dante at the pool. Dante is nothing like Ari, he is caring, open, naturally friendly, and never shuts up. Dante isn’t afraid of all of the feelings he encounters. He isn’t even afraid of his parents, in fact he is crazy about his parents, and his biggest fear is having them be disappointed in him.
Ari and Dante become fast friends. they spend the summer swimming in the El Paso heat, and playing in the summer rain storms. Dante is always looking for ways to destroy his shoes, he hates shoes.
Over the course of two summers, we get the distinct opportunity to watch Ari learn to deal with his family issues, his brother is in prison and he doesn’t know why, and his heritage, Mexican-american. Dante isn’t sure he likes being Mexican, and he pushes back on the expectations of a Mexican son. His parents though, are not the stereotypical Mexican’s they aren’t farm workers or maids. Dante’s father is a professor is in fact a professor who gives him a love of poetry.
Dante then passes that love of poetry to Ari, and shows are that he has the heart of a poet, the heart of a writer.
Ari is a perpetually angry teen. He tells himself he likes to fight, and maybe he does. He is fiercely loyal to Dante, even when Dante tells him that he enjoys kissing boys, Ari does’t change his opinion of his best friend. His loyalty is so strong that he puts those fighting skills to use on behalf of his best friend.
This book is not a quick read, nor is it fast paced. What will get you through this novel is the amazing writing. Benjamin Alire Sáenz has more heart wrenching quotes in this novel than a normal YA novel.
I want to make posters of quotes from this book for the library. He truly portrays the voice of the Mexican-American teen. The struggles of growing up, and not knowing who you are or how to become who you will be. Those in between moments are so vital to Ari and Dante. The moments when you are not who you once were, but not yet who you are becoming. That is the sweet spot where this novel lives.
This book was recently acquired for the library, so any students reading this, please consider picking it up the next time you visit the library.
On a side note, this was one book that I started and finished this book in audio book format. Mainly because it was voiced by Lin Manuel Miranda. Who wouldn’t want the Broadway star reading them this touching story?
Which ever format you decide this book is definitely worth your time.
If you are still unsure if this is book is for you, click the excerpt link below and read a part of this book and see what you think for yourself!
If you are interested in an interview with the author, NPR has a really good one about discovering sexuality through YA lit. Check it out here.