Friday, January 6, 2017

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

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Adults
359 Pages

Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

Well wasn't this an awesome surprise. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe came highly recommended to me by a few of my friends and now having read it, I can see why.

15 year olds Ari and Dante meet one summer at the local swimming pool when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. This sparks a friendship that goes through many ups and downs and revelations. Despite their opposite personalities - Ari is quiet and reserved, choosing to be alone over other people while Ari is talkative, friendly, and curious; the two become inseparable until Dante's father gets offered a job in Chicago for the next school year. Before Dante leaves, there is an accident that forever changes the tone of their friendship and sends Ari on a downward spiral of confusion where he is constantly questioning who he is and what he wants.

What I loved about this book was the realness of the characters.  Ari, the youngest of 3 siblings who are much older than him, lives in the shadows. His father, a war vet, is quiet, never talking about the demons that haunt him leaving Ari to feel this gap between them that he can't quite bridge. The fact that his older brother is in prison doesn't help either. His parents never talk about him and Ari feels like he's a stranger - there's this emptiness in his heart where his brother should be but he just can't fill it. This leaves him stuck in his own head. When you live in a house where people don't discuss feelings and secrets are hidden, that passes to the children. When Ari meets Dante, he doesn't quite know how to react to Dante's openness.

Another thing that really stood out to me was the parents. Most YA books either don't feature the parents or they show them in a harsh light. Here, both sets of parents were present. Even though Ari's dad had trouble communicating, when the time came, he was there for his son. He showed other ways of caring even if he couldn't talk about it. And Ari's mom was a constant source of love and support. Then there was Dante's family. They shared the openness of their son. They welcomed Ari into their homes and hearts without question. Both sets cared and actually parented. I feel this is just so missed in YA and I loved all of the family interactions. Actually, the one time I teared up was during a conversation between Ari and his dad.

This story is about two boys figuring out who they are and what they wanted in a time where life is it's most confusing. Despite it's slow start, this one sucked me into their lives and I know they will stay with me for years to come.

Fun fact: I kept forgetting this was set in the 80's.

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