Monday, February 18, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Sáenz, B.A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. 
     NY: Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers.

AWARDS: Stonewall Book Award (2013), Printz Honor (2013), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2013, Pura Belpre Author Award (2013).

QuickNEasy, 359 pages, ages 14-17
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

So. . .  the reason I read this book was because I was asked to do so by a local librarian who wanted to know if it belonged in the collection or not.  My short answer is YES, YES, YES! READ THIS BOOK!

"Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing."   Wow. . . so much said in so few words.

This story and writing flow like honey out of a jar -- slowly, deliciously worth the wait.  The writing was absolutely beautiful, and though it flies in the face of logic that the narrator, a fifteen-year-old boy, would be so poetic in his narration, it works perfectly.  Ari is insightful, introspective, and angry, and it takes the full spectrum of the two years spanned in the story for Ari to figure out why he feels how he feels and recognize his feelings and reactions, which were sometimes misguided and at other times spot-on.
The strange thing about this book is that though Ari narrates it, I feel like I better know his best friend, Dante.  Both Ari and Dante are recognizable characters, as are both boys' parents.  In reading, I felt like these were people I'd met at work or church or down the street.  It was refreshing that though these families weren't perfect (find one that is) and slightly dysfunctional (again, whose isn't), these parents were THERE for their boys. They care, they love, they do the best they can and they are working to be better parents. There were times that my heart ached; it was painful to hear Ari's thoughts and his descriptions of what he was observing.  I just wanted to shake him and say "TALK to your dad! He is ready!"  And likewise, "Come on, Mom! Just tell him what he needs to hear!"
This book is about the often painful process of finding one's identity and finding acceptance of it -- both internally and from others.  The short chapters and lots of white space on pages made it very readable, which is why I labeled it a QuickNEasy book despite the number of pages.  So much to learn and think about including the value of family, friendship, trust, and love -- and the destructiveness of anger and silence.
The CLEAN-O-METER rating is a 7 out of 10.  There is some violence: a character gets severely attacked for being gay, but only the bodily injuries, not the attack is not described. There is a quick but bloody fistfight that results in a broken nose, and there are references to murders from fistfights. There is no sex, but there is some kissing between opposite sexes and same sexes. There is mention of masturbation, but no details.  There is discussion of sexual orientation and sexual identity with gay, lesbian, and questioning characters. As far as vulgar language, there is a bit of it, including the all powerful Fbomb, but sometimes it's used intentionally because Ari wants to see how his mom will react to it. One humorous use is in the word ba***rd, as it's in a William Carlos Williams poem that the boys like because they can say a swear word if it's in a poem.  There is underage drinking and purposeful drinking to get drunk, and also one incident of smoking pot and another of a person encouraging Ari to shoot-up heroine (he declines). 

Side Note:  I was fortunate enough to attend the Texas Library Association's 2012 Conference in Houston last year. Mr. Sáenz was on a panel of TAYSHA's authors, and though I had never read any of his works, I was impressed by the tips he gave for encouraging students to write.  He also talked about how life experience influences his works.  Now I see it in action, as he is a professor at UT El Paso, and this book's setting is El Paso and two boys' Mexican-American experiences there.  COOL!

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