Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Blogger Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Hi! My name is Jenny, and I am studying Young Adult Literature as part of earning my M.S. in Library Media from St. John Fisher College. The best part of this program is reading great new books that I will be able to share with students when I am a teacher librarian! I am very excited to participate in the Teen Book Festival. I have always been a book lover; I wish there had been TBF when I was younger!

I recently read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and I am happy to share my first book review with you.

Do you remember meeting your best friend? That feeling of, “oh, yeah, I get this person!”? Ari and Dante meet at a swimming pool during the summer of 1987 in El Paso, Texas. And these 15 year olds become friends almost instantly, despite their different personalities. Dante is a confident artist, swimmer, and lover of poetry and books. Ari…is not sure about anything … his family, school, and friends. They bond and form a deep friendship…sharing books and laughter as Dante teaches Ari to swim. Both boys have interesting relationships with their parents. Dante is close and affectionate with his mom and dad, while Ari has difficulty communicating with his Viet Nam War veteran father and his mother who is grieving for the imprisonment of Ari’s older brother. The contrasts between the boys tessellate… they sometimes seem very different from each other, yet they both question themselves, their parents, and how life works. Over the course of two summers, Ari and Dante’s friendship grows as they learn to trust and communicate with each other and also to accept themselves for who they are as they figure out the secrets of love and friendship.

“When I got home, I sat on my front porch.
I watched the sun set.
I felt alone, but not in a bad way. I really liked being alone. Maybe I liked it too much. Maybe my father was like that too.
I thought of Dante and wondered about him.
And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness.
Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”
I loved the language and pace of this book, and how Saenz carefully unfolded the story of two friends. This is a love story, and not an easy story. Set in 1987, LGBT was not widely accepted. The main characters are Mexican–American, and there are hints of prejudice in their lives. However, those issues are not the focus of the novel; it is more a story of self-awareness and acceptance.

Benjamin Alire Saenz masterfully creates convincing characters with beautiful dialogue interspersed with brutally honest and painful scenes. Like the characters, Saenz is Mexican-American and gay. The authentic voice that his characters speak with rings true to life. And like all teenagers, Ari and Dante have fun together; this book is funny and tragic at times. Just like life.

I highly recommend Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It is a thorough and satisfying read. It might make you laugh. It might make you cry. It WILL make you appreciate the beauty of friendship and falling in love.

P.S. After writing this, I heard “Tear in My Heart” by Twenty One Pilots playing on the radio. I listened to the lyrics and thought, “wow, I bet Ari would have liked this song better than “Alone” by Heart. On the first page of the book, Ari turns on his radio, hears “Alone” and is “miserable”. But then I started thinking…and I looked up the lyrics to both songs. And both songs fit with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Ari is miserable because he is alone. Pretty simple symbolism, and when you read the lyrics, you will get it too. (F
ace palm for me because I missed it!) After you finish reading, listen to “Tear in My Heart”, and read the lyrics. And then sing it for Ari and Dante.


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