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Friday, November 29, 2013

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

It is a huge coincidence that the book I am reviewing today shares a lot of the same attributes as the book I reviewed last month. This particular subject matter, that I will delve into later, is not particularly the type of story that I gravitate towards. That being said, I’m glad I happened upon this book right after This Is How You Lose Her, because they complement each other well. The protagonists in both stories are Mexican American adolescents who are navigating the tumultuous path the manhood, but Aristotle chooses a very different path than Yunior.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe tells the story of two teenage Mexican-American boys who grew up in the same neighborhood.

Aristotle meets Dante at a swimming pool. Both boys have come alone to find solace from what feels like overbearing households. The story takes its first unique turn when Aristotle admits that he cannot swim, and Dante offers to teach him. This is the first of many moments in the book where the author deliberately defies stereotypes. The boys in this story do not resemble the typical teenage male persona that plague most young males in fiction; overconfidence, anger and pride. They are honest, emotional, and introspective. Their friendship begins in an unconventional manner, but it grows strong through a series of unexpected events. The story focuses on their friendship, but the real backbone of this narrative is the relationship that each of the boys have with their parents. Aristotle’s father is carrying the burden of a war that his son cannot understand, and his mother does her best to fill the gap between them by leaving no room for anyone else to speak. Aristotle knows that he has a brother, but no one in his family will talk about where he is or what he did. These conflicts cause Aristotle to internalize his emotions and to shut the world out. He is unprepared for Dante’s entrance into his life; a confident, intelligent and brave boy who has no problem saying how he feels about anyone and to anyone.

Dante’s relationship with his parents is also a very important aspect of the story, as it provides a nice contrast to the relationship between Aristotle and his father. Dante’s father is the most compelling character in the novel, as he is understanding, patient and kind. I myself come from a Latin background and am keenly aware of the stereotypes that plague both males and females of Latin culture, but this novel aims to shake those stereotypes and paint these beautiful characters as interesting, compelling and unique individuals whilst incorporating their culture, even though the young males in this book often reject it.

Aristotle experiences a great deal of angst in this book, stemming from his frustrations with his parents, his lack of knowledge about his brother, and his sexuality, which he is afraid to explore. The methods by which he chooses to fight through this angst are relatable and it is easy for the reader to identify with these issues, regardless of your gender or sexual preference. 

I loved this book for many reasons, but its fearlessness is the most endearing element. I don’t want to spoil the ending, because it is unexpected and very satisfying. I will say that sexuality plays a huge part in this story, and it is dealt with in a way that I have not experienced before. I have so many questions for the author, and I am especially interested in the reaction that people of all ages, but mainly teenage males, will have to this story.

The writing is so poignant and beautiful; it is difficult to describe this book as anything but lyrical. It is poetic and honest and so unique that I truly do not think a book of this nature that deals with such important subject matter exists anywhere else. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe

Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

Recommendation: YES

Best Reader Audience: Everyone, but mainly high school students

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Bunny Bums!

Want to explore this endearing friendship? Use the link below and your purchase will also support the Lone Book Club!

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