"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Friday, April 11, 2014

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

"The problem with my life is that it was someone else's idea."

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was published in 2012 by Simon & Schuster. It has already won many awards and I can definitely understand why. This is the story of two, Mexican fifteen year old boys on the journey of self-discovery.

Aristotle or "Ari" is always angry and has virtually no real friends. His brother is in prison and his father is a Vietnam veteran. He is very close with his mom. One day Ari meets another fifteen year old named Dante at the pool, who offers to teach him to swim. He is attractive, an only child, and an artist. Ari and Dante develop a beautiful friendship full of laughter, fun, and feelings. Dante is sure of himself from the beginning and seems to fit in everywhere he goes. One particular day, Dante is in the middle of the road trying to save a dying bird when a car comes zooming by. Ari pushes Dante out of the way and gets very seriously injured himself. He couldn't understand why he shoved Dante out of the way and why he felt so upset about it. The story develops as Dante ans his family move away to Chicago for his father's business and they have to communicate through letters. They both try to experiment with girls, alcohol, and smoking. Dante admits to Ari that he would rather be kissing boys and Ari is adamant about kissing girls only; though the reader can sense he may not know himself fully yet. After a year, Dante and his family move back to Texas and the boys pick up their friendship where it began. Dante is seriously injured in a fight with some boys who spot him kissing another boy in an alley and Ari goes on a massive revenge streak. In the end, the boys drive out to their favorite star-gazing spot in Ari's truck and discover the real secret to their universe.

It is imperative to realize that "the secrets of the universe" are different for everyone. There is no singular "secret." The secrets of the universe are whatever makes you, you.The painful part of being a teenager is that one doesn't know themselves yet and so that leads them down the path of self-discovery. Dante knew he was gay and so did his parents but Ari had not realized that he was also gay until the very end of the book. The themes of this book are strong and being true to yourself is the main message.

"As Dante was watching me search the sky through the lens of a telescope he whispered, 'Someday, I'm going to discover the secrets of the universe.'
That made me smile. 'What are you going to do with all those secrets, Dante?'
'I'll know what to do with them,' he said. 'Maybe change the world.'
I believed him," (Saenz 42-43). 

This novel is so truthful and honest. Every young adult/teenager, no matter their sexual orientation, should read this book. It is empowering and everyone can relate to the struggles these two boys face. I also really enjoyed learning more about the Mexican culture through this book. The author, Benjamin Alire Saenz, is of Hispanic heritage and is gay himself. I enjoyed the book a million times more knowing it was authentic and from a cultural insider. It was very realistic! While reading other reviews on his text, I stumbled across one from a gay Mexican man who praised this book for relating to his culture and experiences he went through as a struggling boy. That really warmed my heart to read! I highly recommend this book to young adult readers!

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