Thursday, May 22, 2014

Discovering the Secrets of Ourselves

I've got a number of good books I want to review for you when I have time, but in the mean time, there's one I just can't stay silent about.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
YA by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle has no friends and likes to fight. He's plagued by his dad's inability to open up, thanks to emotional scars from the Viet Nam war, and his family's complete silence about Aristotle's older brother who is in jail. He's skating through life, full of unanswered questions and apparent apathy.

Then he meets Dante: effervescent, caring, and smart. Somehow they become friends and Dante brings Aristotle out of himself, but what emerges is as different from the old Aristotle as a butterfly from a caterpillar. He finds both anger and love in himself, and always more questions. It takes several near-death experiences and a communal effort for Aristotle to start finding answers.

This is the best growing-up story I've read.

At first I was irked by the writing style; it does a lot of telling about Aristotle instead of action and dialog. When things do happen they're often opaque and you don't always understand why Aristotle is doing what he's doing. I hate that style.

But this book managed to suck me in right away despite that. I couldn't put it down. I discovered that the style and voice perfectly fits Aristotle's understanding of himself, and actually changes throughout the book as Aristotle's perspective on himself changes. And don't worry--everything is explained in the end.

I bought this book as part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign; both boys struggle with their biculturalism (Mexican and American) and their sexuality. As they wrestle with these questions--and each other--I cried. I stayed up til 2am to finish the book, balling through most of the second half. And then laughing. And then crying again. It ripped a hole in me like Will Grayson did--a bigger hole, possibly. Then it filled the hole back up again with answers and I felt like I came to understand myself better as Aristotle did.

If there is any book you read this month, it should be this one. Go to your library right now and check it out. I'm serious. If you don't learn something about yourself, then I give you permission to never take a book recommendation from me again.


Word count: 400.