Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publisher: Simon and Shuster
Publication Date: February 21st, 2012
Literary Awards:
 Stonewall Book Award (2013), Printz Honor (2013), Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children's/Young Adult (2013), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2013), Pura Belpre Author Award (2013)
Format: Library Copy (except that now I want a copy for myself!)
Genre: YA; Romance; LGBT; Contemporary*
Rating: ✎✎✎✎✎✎

*This book technically takes place in the 80s, but it has the contemporary vibe like Eleanor and Park.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

My Thoughts and Reflection:

I've been in a reading funk lately.  Nothing has seemed appealing, I've been exhausted from school, and my friend got me addicted to Grey's Anatomy.  Luckily, I've gotten some sleep, controlled my addiction (am only watching one episode every couple of days) and finished Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  This book not only pulled me out of my reading funk, but utterly impressed me, and has earned itself a spot on my favorites list. 

I picked up ADDSU (do you like my acronym?  How about I just call it AD?)  So I picked up AD a couple of weeks ago at one of my many trips to the local library.  I didn't pick it up for any specific reason.  I had heard vaguely promising things, and it was quite the impressive amount of awards stacking up.  So I figured, why not?

This was one of the sweetest, most raw and contemporary books that I've read in a long time.  Sáenz grabbed you by your shirt collar and dragged you in to these character's lives.  He pushed their emotions down your throat until you felt pain along with the characters.  He pulled back and wrote simpler when there were softer moments in the story.  Sáenz wrote a beautiful story of hurt and sorrow, a story filled with goodness and light.  I found myself licking up every page, ignoring the fact that this was a plotless book; instead I was engrossed in the characters lives.  Now, plottless is a little harsh.  This book strayed from the formatted rising action/climax/falling action that lost of books follow.  Honestly, the straying worked for this story, and I can't imagine this book with a more disciplined plot.   I think that it would have stolen the focus from the characters, and that's why you keep reading as a reader.

Aristotle and Dante.  From the moment we meet these two characters, the reader knows that we are dealing with two very special boys.  We meet Aristotle first.  And Aristotle is angry.  Aristotle is angry at his parents, at his brother, at his sisters, and at himself.  At first it seems that he is just a typical teenager with family problems and a miserable social life.  But those facts do not completely define who Aristotle is.  Yes, Aristotle has family problems, but it's not as if he ignores them or enjoys them.  He acknowledges them in every pretense of his life.  He lives out his life in the shadow of his brother, he wanders a house with the ghosts of his sister.  He struggles with his mother's prying, and sits in frustration with his father's silence.

Dante changes everything.  That is a big statement; to say that one character altered the entire story.  But Dante did. 
Dante is special in all the ways that Aristotle isn't.  Dante is honest, confident, quirky, and kind.  He is talkative, persuasive, and many of the things that Aristotle isn't.  Their friendship is certainly a rocky one, with many twists and turns that change the course of both their lives.  
The most important thing about Aristotle and Dante, and their relationship, is what they teach each other.  Aristotle teaches Dante to slow down, to enjoy the silence, to have strange moments in the rain.  Dante teaches Aristotle to open up, to speak his feelings, and to push his own boundaries.  
Dante is sure of himself for pretty much the entire book, which is the opposite of Aristotle.  Aristotle is wishy washy, confused, frustrated, angry, and mean.  All of the things that teenage boys are made of.  But all the goodness and confidence that is Dante, helps Aristotle become the person, the man that he needs to be.
Aristotle also helps Dante overcome, or sort of get a new perspective on being Mexican.  Ethnicity and origin are not a big part of this book, certainly not as big as in other books I've read.  It is more subtle in this book, which was nice.  It brought out different things, like insecurities with Dante, while not taking away the focus from the characters.  The reader didn't suddenly become distracted by the debate about Mexican culture in America, instead of staying focused on how being Mexican made our character feel.  Sánez balanced these concepts very professionally.

Dante also teaches Aristotle to be open with his parents, which sort of awakes the monsoon of questions, conversations, and yes, tears.  Finally, the silence, the prying without depth, comes to an end.  Aristotle gets answers to the things looming in his life, and he also renews his relationships with his parents. Of course their relationships aren't perfect, I mean, he is a teenager.  And teenager besides, no relationship is perfect.  But Aristotle and his parents make wonderful strides with wonderful results.

My favorite characters, by far, were Dante's parents.  They were so honest, so real, so genuine.  I loved to think that such good, honest people could possibly exist in the world.  Their love for Dante, and for Aristotle is admirable.  Sánez had very developed secondary characters, and background stories, with out being overly detailed.  

Love.  My favorite part of this entire book was the amount of love that gets passed among all of the characters.  Love that is given, returned, lost, and forgotten.  I have not felt such love, such heartache, such happiness or pain as I did reading this book.


This book was an amazing mix of beautiful characters, roller coaster lives, and articulate writing.  I would recommend this to fans of John Green, Eleanor and Park, LGBT YA, and honestly, if you like a quality book, just pick this up.  Even if you don't fit into the other fan categories that I just listed.  Believe me, you won't be sorry.

Dust Jacket Ramblings:

I think that this is one of the best covers of a book that I have seen in a long time.  The font of the title captures the imaginative essence of the book.  The doodles and illustrations capture Aristotle and Dante individually.  I like how both sides mirror each other, but are unique.  The red pick up truck certainly brings attention to Aristotle's beloved truck, which is the definition of  his summers with Dante.   Overall, I think that this is a cover that is just for this amazing story.  

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