Friday, November 2, 2012

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

Ari Mendoza and Dante Quintana are best friends in El Paso, Texas, where Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Author Benjamin Alire Saenz crafts a powerful coming out and coming of age story through Ari's distinctive voice. He is a loner and a tough guy to outside observers, but a lot is going on under his surface.

"I knew I wasn't a boy anymore. But I still felt like a boy. Sort of. But there were other things I was starting to feel. Man things, I guess. Man loneliness was much bigger than boy loneliness. [...] I was changing into someone I didn't know. The change hurt but I didn't know why it hurt. And nothing about my own emotions made any sense."

Dante is opposite to his friend in many ways, but especially in how he wears his unabashed heart on his sleeve. His love of poetry rubs off on Ari, to Ari's surprise.

"You could smell the rain in the desert even before a drop fell. I closed my eyes. I held my hand out and felt the first drop. It was like a kiss. The sky was kissing me. It was a nice thought. It was something Dante would have thought."

Saenz explores self-identity and personal relationships in layers: ethnic heritage; sexual orientation; machismo; fathers and sons; mothers and sons; brothers; and friends.

"What should we eat?" I said.
"Menudo," he said.
"You like menudo."
"I think that makes you a real Mexican."
"Do real Mexicans like to kiss boys?'
"I don't think liking boys is an American invention."

I highly recommend this book to teen and adult readers alike. It is just so full of heart... which happens to be where all the secrets of the universe reside.

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