Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Review

aristotle_and_danteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 978-1442408920

Synopsis: When Aristotle meets Dante at the community pool in the summer of 1987, the two fifteen-year-olds are struggling to figure out who they are and who they will become. Aristotle is unsure of himself and prefers the quiet while Dante is smart and has a way with people, so it would seem the two opposites wouldn’t get along. But the friendship that develops between the two boys over the next year is going to change them both in unexpected ways.

Why I picked it up: The title intrigued me and so did the fact that it won the Stonewall Book Award.

Why I finished it: This story was so moving for me on so many levels that it is hard for me to know where to start. Sáenz has a way of allowing his characters to develop on their own without forcing them to move in a particular direction that helps the reader relate and gives a more free-form feel to the story. I love that Aristotle and Dante are two different people trying to figure out who they are while they are navigating personal, family, and social issues. Both boys are clearly batting their own personal demons as we progress throughout the novel and I think it was rather refreshing that things don’t get fixed, but old wounds begin to heal over. Sáenz is also confronting the issues of sexuality and race. While Dante is more open than Aristotle, it is clear that Dante’s straightforward nature is part of what helps Aristotle confront why he is so angry and why he seems to be unintentionally distancing himself from getting too close to Dante. Both boys also talk frequently about how Mexican or not they are at any given time. They’re trying to break the stereotype and yet, they are who they are. It is a book about love, family, friendship, and how the three are intertwined in ways that touch our hearts and make us think about what it is to be who we are.

Other related materials: Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge, Marke Bieschke, and Christian Robinson; The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell; Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green; Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez; Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez; The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth; Something Like Summer by Jay Bell; Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell; Something Like Winter by Jay Bell; Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, & What I Learned by Judd Winick; Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

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