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Book review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rated it: 5 stars

I reread this gem last year and the feels are still incredibly strong. Long story short this is a coming of age story of teenager Aristotle (told entirely in his point of view) during the 1980s set in El Paso, Texas, and spans two years.

The summer was hot and humid, the rain was like a veil into different emotional dimension I kid you not. And the birds, well they were there crapping on people in a real way. Oh, just read the thing and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s raining as I’m writing, and usually when it does I’m reminded of my summer boys.

And I’ll be straight with you, dear readers, this is a novel I cannot formulate a coherent sentences worthy of a decent review so I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for this mass of fangirl babble. Ari was at the awkward age where he’s coming to terms that his body is changing, he’s occupied with thoughts of his veteran father who’s in another world most of the time. Added to that he’s somewhat obsessed with an older brother who he barely remembers. 

He meets the soft spoken and bookish Dante (one of the cinnamon-iest cinnamon roll I’ve read so far) one day at the pool. A loner by choice, Ari begins to find his company an education.

The friendship that grows between these two … it’s simple yet it’s not. For better or for worse they change each other. Simply by being there they challenged themselves with facing the hard questions, the kind of questions that makes them realize just how vast and painfully tangible the universe possibly is.

What I loved

  • Sáenz didn’t mince words, let me tell you. When I first read it I was confused and uncomfortable but then I got it. This was Ari’s voice: raw, undiluted and straightforward. Also the writing gets poetic, which I expect from a book with a guy named Aristotle in it. Not that he’s poetic. Hmm, well he does get poetic but he doesn’t think he is.
  • Ari. I like him. A lot. Full of angsty pubescent emotions, foul mouthed (as much as a fifteen year old can be in YA), a natural born smart ass, and an actual decent human being. Cute too, did I mention?
  • Dante, another smarty pants. He’s the yin to Ari’s yang. Gentle, fierce, kind and forever curious. If I recall correctly, he has identity issues with his Mexian ancestry, having not been immersed in it as much as Ari. He’s terribly brave when it comes down to it.
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Filed under Books, Fiction, Young Adult

Why didn’t I raise my hand?

via Pinterest, click to see

It was my last year of high school, there was this guy, a pastor (Mr. Fingle?) from the US had come to give us a lecture on acceptance, loving and respecting ourselves and a few other things along those lines. I can remember what seemed to be the entire fifth form seated to the front of the auditorium, quietly listening to this confident and passionate man. I think the silence had to do with him being a stranger and a foreigner, the only white man (and very pink from the heat) in the gathering of brown and ebony. Plus no one would ever want to stand up in front of everyone and given the high chance of messing up.

I remembered feeling empowered somehow, his words excluded this contagious energy that was meant to affect me. I can’t say the same for the other kids, half of whose faces are blurs in my mind today, quiet yes, but not necessarily listening. I’ve always made a point to pay attention especially to guests like Mr. Fingle, it’s not often people around here will talk about this stuff, to address these feelings we feel, why we feel them and how we think we should react to them.

I’m afraid up to now I have been vague on what were some of the things he said, mostly because I found that a lot from that day has blanked out from me probably because one particular topic he mentioned proceeded to take up my thoughts from then on. There was this guy sitting right in front of me, let’s call him Nash. Mr. F walked over and pointed to him and asked everyone, “Okay, let’s for a minute pretend that this young man happened to be gay. Which one of you would be his friend?”

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