Friday, March 2, 2012

Guy Pick: Aristotole and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Simon & Schuster
368 pages

Blogger's Note: (Although I live in El Paso and the author is a local writer and professor, that is not the reason I read and reviewed the book. It sat on my shelf for about a month before I picked it up. The first chapter drew me in with its palpable teen angst and well-depicted teen characters Dante and Ari).

Poignant, deeply touching, and sensitive, this tender coming of age story centers around two fifteen year old boys: Dante and Ari. It's not easy being fifteen and it's not easy being different. Ari says, "I was fifteen. I was bored. I was miserable." Sounds familiar, right?

Dante and Ari share their dreams and fears, beautiful poetry, good books, and deep conversations. They know they're not like other boys. They are intellectual, thoughtful, and quiet; they are the "good" boys. They cry over a wounded bird. They don't run in a gang, or do drugs, or cause trouble.

Ari wrestles with his family's demons, too. His father is a Vietnam vet who never quite came home--at least not mentally. He's hard to get to know and doesn't talk about Vietnam--ever. Ari's older brother Bernardo is in prison, but it's another topic the family never discusses. Ari feels that his family has too many secrets and wishes someone--his mother or his father--would tell him about Bernardo or about why his dad is so broken.

Dante's father accepts a position in Chicago and the two friends are separated for a year but stay in touch through letters (it's 1987--pre-email era). Ari is happy to see Dante when he returns but a little wary, too.

When Dante gets jumped by a group of neighborhood thugs, Ari makes things right. Dante's parents confront (nicely confront) Ari about the boys' "relationship."

The secrets of the universe aptly describes the struggle both boys face with their questions: Who am I? Why am I the way I am? Am I normal? What is normal?

Their questions are answered and the family secrets are spilled. Love is not necessarily gender specific; love wears many faces and blossoms sometimes in unexpected ways.

Highly, highly recommended for grades 9-up. Mature situations, discussion of sexual topics, language, LGBT

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

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