Book 63: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

It is National Hispanic American Heritage Month, and I just finished reading the most appropriate book for the occasion. It could also fit very nicely into a book list for National Characters We Want To Be Best Friends With Month. Okay so that month doesn’t quite exist yet, but if John Green and J.K. Rowling fans have any say in the matter, it will be established very soon.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is the story of a fifteen year old Hispanic-American boy named Aristotle. He is a loner, the youngest of four children by eleven years. His brother is in prison but no one will tell him why. And it’s Texas in 1987, so Google isn’t around to make such an inquiry easy to answer. He struggles with his identity as a Hispanic American in that he knows he has a temper and a reputation of being a fighter, and he doesn’t quite know what to make of life. That is, until he meets Dante, and his confusion is tripled, quadrupled.

For a few minutes I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of the universe of almost men.

This coming-of-age story is more than the story of two friends trying to understand themselves, their peers, their families, and each other. This story is one of love, acceptance, and honor. I adore Ari, and at times my heart actually hurt for him and all the teens that are wading through such confusing thoughts and feelings. I know those loner feelings, those confusing feelings, those inexplicable angry feelings towards the very people who don’t deserve it. And for how much I empathize and adore Ari, I straight up fell head-over-hells for the foil characters. The moms, dads, and even the sassy high school girls are so realistic, it’s like the author was Ari, was Dante. It’s like he opened up the journals and diaries of teen boys and copied their words, attitudes, and dreams.

I wanted to ask her, Mom, when will I know who I am?

I recommend this book to any and every Hispanic American teen because it deals with ethnic identity in an honest and mature way. I will also recommend this book to any young person struggling with sexual identity, as being gay today is much different than being gay in America in the 1980s. There were no laws protecting gays. “Hate crimes” were more rampant, but there was no It Gets Better campaign, no celebrities like Ellen Degeneres. The book covers acceptance and rejection, love and hate, sure and unsure; the very range that most teens have a hard time finding their place on. I think it will be a long time before I stop longing to ride around in a car with Dante, or sip a beer with Aristotle. The combination of their depth and their silliness is what makes teens so much fun to be around. I am so glad my job allows me to do just that.

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