Friday, June 6, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Released: February 21, 2012
Genre: Young Adult


Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

[From Goodreads.]


I'm starting to appreciate all these YA books that keep parents in the picture. I was weened on fairy tales, fantasy, and sci-fi, genres which tend to dispose of parents, sometimes with great fanfare, sometimes by dumping them into the ocean roughly fifteen minutes into the movie.

You were just too inconvenient, parents.

Reasons for this vary, but the most ubiquitous is probably that parents tend to get in the way of a teen hero/ine's dangerous exploits.

How dare they love and care about their children.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe takes it a step further by letting the camera linger on both boys' parents every once in a while, cementing them as real people with real feelings rather than human-shaped obstacles to be overcome. While the emotional rollercoaster that is Aristotle and Dante is the novel's thesis, their relationships with their parents—Aristotle's, especially—are major plot points.

The novel is told in a short, clipped style, heavy in dialogue and first person introspection. Thoughts and discussion take heavy precedence over any sort of action, and while I like the steady, quiet tone this lends the novel, others might lack the patience for it.

The middle section of the novel dragged a little, as it kept revisiting the same problems—Dante's malaise, his longing for some contact, even indirect contact, with his estranged, imprisoned elder brother—without offering much in the way of resolution or forward momentum. It's still compelling, largely because those problems are compelling, but at times I wished Aristotle could move on a little quicker.

Overall, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe is a sweet, quiet book about love. It acknowledges that love comes in many different flavors, all of them somehow both delectable and hard to swallow. Those tired of quirky white teens will find Dante and Aristotle a nice change of pace, as will those interested in LGBT relationships.

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