What is Aristotle and Dante Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe About:
Do not be fooled by the title, this is NOT a book about the philosopher Aristotle or the poet Dante! Never judge a book by its cover, or its title in this case. Instead this is a carefully structured book about 2 completely different Mexican-American teenage boys exploring who they are in the 80’s. We are first introduced to the short-tempered, friendless 15-year-old Aristotle Mendoza, who goes by Ari throughout the book. Ari has 3 older siblings, two older sisters and an older brother who is in jail. You will learn more about this in the book, it becomes an important theme. Ari’s mother is a loving woman, who cares very much about her boy. His father is a Vietnam veteran who rarely talks about his war, his feelings, or at all for that matter. To sum it all up, Ari feels lost in his seemingly dysfunctional family.
A few chapters into the book you are introduced to Dante Quintana, the energetic, kind and passionate boy who sees the world differently than most. Dante comes from a loving home where his parents talk about their feelings and are affectionate towards each other, something Ari is not used too. Despite their differences in their personalities and family function the two boys bond over their funny, yet classical names. From then on the two boys are inseparable. The reader follows from Ari’s point of view as he, and Dante, discover their sexuality, who they are as a person and who they want to become. Their friendship seeps through the pages as you become lost in their adventures and their potentially blooming relationship. The Book Smugglers say it best, “Their friendship is a balancing act: sweet and tender, playful and serious, full of intellectual interactions and questionings about life, the universe and everything. It is a beautiful story of friendship…”
Read more about of their review at: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2013/02/book-review-aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe-by-benjamin-alire-saenz.html
About the Author:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a profound American poet, novelist, and writer of children’s books. Sáenz studied at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned his Masters Degree in creative writing. After receiving his degree he entered into the PhD program at Stanford University. During this time he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won him an American Book Award at age 38. Needless to say, Sáenz’s career only blossomed from there. From then on he released several poems and novels which helped him receive awards like; Best Children’s Book in 2000, Child PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2013 and two awards at the 2014 Lambda Literary Awards plus many more. One award for Fiction in 2013 was for his book Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which is the book I will be highlighting in this post.
What Inspired Sáenz to write Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:
In the late 2000’s the scholarly and successful Sáenz came out as gay. He mentions in an interview that he had difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality due to have been sexually abused as a child. He talks about how he’d even been married for 15 years before he finally accepted who he was. After coming out at age 54 he expresses himself through his literature. It helps Sáenz to be happy about who he is and what he wants. This book was a product of his self-expression. Many of his books explore LGBTQ themes. Not only do these books allow a form of self-expression for Sáenz, they create very real themes and characters that people can relate too.
Read more of this interview at: http://www.slj.com/2013/01/interviews/between-violence-and-tenderness-aristotle-and-dante-author-saenz-talks-to-slj/#_
Would I Recommend This Book:
Yes and no. I would love to recommend this book to students who I feel could benefit from it, however, I would NOT recommend this book for the classroom. Lifeway says, “develop a file or bookshelf with resources that you can access with the issue of homosexuality and sexual confusion occurs.” This book would be a GREAT addition to said bookshelf. Read more of their Teens and Homosexuality article at: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Teens-and-homosexuality . There are strong themes of alcohol, drugs, language, homosexuality and a small part that talks about masturbation. Some of things can be offensive to students, or a very sensitive topic for them, and should not be used as required literature. With that, I would NOT recommend this book for anyone younger than 16 years old. Again, this is my personal opinion. To really get the most from this book you need maturity and an open mind. By having these two things this is more than just a book of “two gay boys,” it’s a beautiful book of a boy who is lost and in the end finds himself and what makes him happy. As strong as this book may be in language and alcohol these are things kids deal with EVERYDAY. Everyone needs a character they can look up too and a storyline they can relate too and this book offers just that.
Lastly, I feel this book is extremely beneficial when it comes to showing the reader what goes through the mind of a sexually confused 15 year old boy, or girl for that matter. Teachers come across all kinds of students in their classroom, and this book gives you a look into their mind. The author, Sáenz, is able to give a very accurate perspective of to his because he has experienced these same feelings. I believe Sáenz is an author kids, and adults, can look up to; especially those in the LGBTQ community. Sáenz’s literature speaks to the kind of struggles and difficulties he went through as a child and teen. I believe he can reach a level of understanding with today’s youth that most authors cannot. All though this is not a book I would have chosen on my own, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it. I feel that it has benefited me as a person and future teacher. It has given me a deeper understanding of what students may be experiencing, and how I can help them through it.