Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I've been dreading writing this review. And not because I didn't like the book. Quite the opposite. I absolutely love this book. And because of that I feel a certain obligation to it. Somehow, I have to convey the inexplicable beauty that lives within its pages; the simplicity of language, action, and characters that make this an everyman story even as it turns stereotypes on their head. This is truly great, accessible literature. And I can't tell you much more without completely ruining it for you.

I will tell you I shouldn't like this book. I generally don't care for books written from the point of view of a boy firmly imbedded in what I like to call the awkward years and trying to find himself, and touch boobs, and blah, blah, blah. But that's just where our protagonist is. When we first meet Ari it is summer in El Paso, 1987 and he is 15. And soon he will meet Dante, who is also 15, at the local swimming pool. Dante, "...who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean, stupid boys." And then neither of them will ever be the same.

When the story ends Ari is 17, and still trying to find himself. He writes, "Senior year. And then life...High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you-but when you graduated you got to write yourself." Pretty typical YA stuff. But what's so amazing about this novel is that every time you think it's veering into the typical, it proves you wrong, but not with the well-constructed plot twists of a mystery or thriller, just within the confines of its own stark beauty.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz won the Printz Honor for the best writing in teen lit and the Pura Belpre award for excellence in celebrating and depicting Latino culture. Saenz is a poet by trade and his prose reflects it. Read this book because nothing about it appeals to you. And never be the same.

Want to read some other great YA lit? How about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie or I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle. I shouldn't like either of those either. But I do! These titles are all available at VBPL.


Carolyn said...

It is astounding for one teen novel to win three different awards, one each for excellence in depicting the Latino cultural experience and the LGBT experience, plus being named a Printz Honor book for the best writing in teen literature.

Tennille said...

Shhhhh about the LGBT award. I was halfway through the book when I found out it won the award and it sort of ruined the ending for me. I'm curious to see how they're going to handle that. If you put that award on the cover, I think it will change the way you read the book, don't you?

Tennille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn said...

It has now also won the Lambda Award for Children's/Young Adult. I think the book is out of the closet.