March 25, 2013
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Ari is cruising through summer vacation, just kicking back and taking things easy. He wishes Mom would get off his back but she’s worried that he doesn’t have any close friends. He decides to make her happy, and cool off from the desert heat, by going to the pool. If someone speaks to Ari, he responds but he generally doesn’t seek out other people. He likes his own company and has taught himself the basics of swimming — how to stay afloat and move from place to place. Then another fifteen year-old who offers to teach him how to swim and soon he has a friend, Dante.
Both of them are Mexican American, growing up in El Paso, Texas in the late 1980s. But neither one of them feels truly Mexican. They speak the language — a little. They like the food and some of the art. But their names? Aristotle and Dante? Neither one is even remotely Mexican. Dante is an artist, who loves to draw, who is also a top notch swimmer. Ari is just kind of drifting through life. He has three older siblings although all he knows about his older brother is that he is in prison. His parents and twin older sister clam up whenever he asks any questions.
With Dante, he has finally discovered someone he can laugh with, hang around with and just be himself. Sure, sometimes he annoys Dante, but Dante annoys him too. Still, they get over it. Isn’t that what friends do?
Then a storm comes and hail covers the ground. Before Dante can move out of the street, a car careens around the corner. The last thing Ari remembers before waking up in the hospital is yelling Dante’s name.
I have to admit that I’m worried about already giving away too much of the plot in this amazing book. You know its going to be relevant to where we as a society are now. How do you know that? It won the American Book Award and the winners of that particular award always deal with topics straight from today’s headline news. It is also the 2013 winner of the Pura Belpre Award which is given each year by the American Library Association to a Latin American author who has created a work that depicts that Latino experience.
Don’t let the reading level fool you. This is not a book for the grade school set. Not that it is gory or graphic, but it probably wouldn’t interest an 8 or 9 year-old. These characters are teens and this is, after all, their story.
Whether or not you are Latino, or even Latina, pick up this book. Admittedly, I was hooked by the setting. It isn’t every day that you find a book set in El Paso, Texas. But this is a story about identity and family and secrets and growing into ourselves and being comfortable in our own skins. It is about living and laughing and loving.
Share this book with the young reader in your life. Give it the opportunity to spark an amazing discussions about the universe and our place in it.