Sunday, November 9, 2014

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review

Hey readers and a very happy Sunday to you all! I have been hard at work to get some reviews done for you guys, but I've had some distractions. Some distractions like oh, a new job, moving across the state, MY BIRTHDAY, ya know, some distractions... So I haven't been on my A game! Plus, if you guys haven't heard I co-hosted this amazing Halloween Author Invasion last week... Yeah, it's been a busy few weeks for me! BUT, alas, here I am and ready to share with you guys another awesome review! Hope you guys are ready, because this one was a very special read that came to me highly recommended by an even more special friend. You guys know her as the amazing Christina Marie, YouTube sensation and blogger extraordinaire from LuLo Fangirl! Anyway, this read is one of her ALL TIME favorites and after hearing her rave about it, I knew I had to check it out! This time on the chopping block? Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz! Here's a bit about the novel and the author before we get to my thoughts!

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Check out this fan-made trailer for the novel before we get to my thoughts!

My Thoughts: 

Every time I bring up my favorite books of the year, my very awesome and dear friend Christina has mentioned this read to me. She has never flat out recommended it to me because she didn’t want to push it off on me, but she definitely hinted that I should check this out. A few weeks ago I was in a bit of a reading slump and needed something to pull me out. Christina put the bug in my ear once more and I purchased an e-copy of Aristotle and Dante on the spot! I honestly didn’t know anything about this read going into it, so I really did not know what to expect. All I had was Christina’s word that this was one of her favorite books! I should have known this one was going to be a special read! Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (henceforth referred to as simple A&D), definitely blew me away and has definitely also made my embarrassingly long list of favorite reads! This was my first adventure into the mind of Benjamin Alire Saenz and after this read, I know it won’t be my last!

First off, the dedication. The dedication? Yeah, you read that right. I have to say that I am not one of those people who reads a book and finds a way to connect with a character every time. That’s just not how I roll for the most part. This book, however, had me connecting to all the characters and every situation. I couldn’t believe the book spoke to me the way it did. At one point in the novel, I somehow pushed a button and was taken to the dedication page, then I understood why this book was so special to me. The dedication reads: To all the boys who’ve had to learn to play by different rules. Yep. So much yes. How awesome to see a Young Adult contemporary novel not only about the lives of two males, but dedicated to males everywhere? That’s amazing in my books. Especially as a male blogger. It’s really difficult to find authors who can relate to their male readers, much less dedicate a book to them. That single sentence spoke volumes to me about our author, Alire Saenz. 

The setting. First off, I will go ahead and say that books set in the past usually are hit and miss for me. Especially “modern-ish” time stuff. Don’t get me wrong, Historic Fiction is one of my absolute favorite genres, but stuff that is set anytime in the past 50 years usually causes me to give a big eye roll. This one proved me wrong! A&D takes place in 1987 Texas. Strange right? Well, I have to say this worked for me WAY better than I ever imagined. Maybe it’s because I was born not too long after this, but I could definitely relate to a time before technology. A time when things were much simpler than they are today! I often wonder what teenagers did before the internet, what they did to kill time after school, what life was like, in generally for teenagers before my time. This read gave EXCELLENT insight to just how similar all teenagers are, regardless of the time period or the geographic location!

The characters. Okay, this is kind of an unfair category. As a YA contemporary, this entire book was about the character development. I can’t really say all that much without giving away huge plot spoilers, so I will try to be as vague as possible. I will just start out by saying that I am not sure I have EVER read a book in this genre with such amazing character development. Our main characters of Aristotle and Dante were two of the most well written male characters I have ever read. On an individual level, I will go ahead and say I really liked Ari (our narrator) a WHOLE lot more than Dante. Ari really resonated with me, I don’t know why specifically, but I could really relate to Ari at times. Dante on the other hand, while still REALLY awesome, kind of got on my nerves at times. I do believe that was the point though. He is very… different. He talks too much (like myself), and really makes it a point to make Ari uncomfortable and awkward at times, although he doesn’t realize he does it. I have friends that are a lot like Dante so I totally know what Ari was going through. When it comes to the friendship between these two characters, I was really amazing at how well written it was. It was genuine and really refreshing to read about a male friendship in a literary genre generally dominated by females. Now there were a few major points in Ari and Dante’s story that I could NOT relate to, but I still LOVED reading it all. Seriously, their stories really touched me. I haven’t finished a book with feelings like this in a long time. So funny how characters can do that. Ari is awesome. End of story. Dante is great too, but together as one team they really make the story enjoyable. It’s so great to see how characters can really be like two different puzzle pieces, but in the end they need to be looked at holistically to really understand how awesome their journey to “discover the secrets of the universe” really was! Another amazing set of characters I LOVED reading were both Ari and Dante’s parents. Man, seriously I was laughing out loud SO much at the things they would say. They truly were the coolest and best written parents I have probably EVER read in a novel. It was so cool to read a book where the parents played a big part of the storyline. There are so many times I read a book and say “where are the parents here?”, but not this time. The parents play just as important role in the story as our two main characters. It is under their guidance that Ari and Dante really come into their own and mature/develop. 

On the topic of laughing out loud, can we talk about how funny this book was? I found myself laughing out loud so many times during this read. These boys were hilarious. For instance, at one point Ari and his mother are referring to their dog and Ari narrates, “The dog thing was a joke. We didn’t have one…” and most people would probably be like “uh… okay?”, but I was cracking up! I’ve never really based a book rating on its emotional factor, but if I was to do that with A&D, it would be a perfect rating, no questions asked. One minute I was laughing my face off, the next I was so mad my blood was boiling, then the next, I was crying alongside our characters. You want to talk about an emotional roller coaster? Read THIS book!

I had so many highlights of amazing quotes in this novel that really added to all the points I have mentioned previously, some of the ones that really touched me were:
  • “Yeah, I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being fifteen didn’t help. Sometimes I thought that being fifteen was the worse tragedy of them all…” Heard that, being 15 is rough!
  • “I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.” Again, was this book written just for me? Because I pretty much live by that philosophy!
  • “I didn’t understand how you could live in a mean world and not have any of that meanness rub off on you. How could a guy live without some meanness?” This was such an interesting quote.
  • “Maybe I was a little superior. But I didn’t think I was superior. I just didn’t understand how to talk to them, how to be myself around them. Being around other guys didn’t make me feel smarter. Being around guys made me feel stupid and inadequate. It was like they were all a part of this club and I wasn’t a member.” I seriously can relate to this SO well. Maybe it just spoke to me because in this sense I am so much like our narrator. I have always had more female friends than male friend, just because, like Ari, I had a hard time relating to the plight of the average teenage male. I’ve always felt like an old soul!
  • “You can’t expect to go both ways when you’re driving on a one-way street.” Truth. For so many reasons.
  • “Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.” You never know what life is going to throw at you next, live in the moment!
So that’s a bunch of quotes, but seriously, I have probably 20 more that I DIDN’T share. 

In the end, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ended up being one of my new favorite books. Not just of the year, but ever. It spoke to me in so many ways. Although I will say that I did not expect the ending to happen like it did, and one part of the novel was a little uncomfortable for me to read, neither of those things made me dislike the novel in any capacity! I really liked that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into at all. It was really a trip down the rabbit hole for me and I had no idea where it would end. It was refreshing, enjoyable, and life-changing. Well… maybe not life “changing”, but definitely amazing nonetheless. All-in-all I am granting Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe a perfect 5+-star review! I highly recommend this novel to any reader (YA and up). In fact, I think everyone should read it. It really touches on a lot of issues that are just as relevant nearly 30 years later as they were in 1987! I don’t think anyone who takes the time to invest into this read will be disappointed in the end. In fact, I’d even say it may change you for the better!

Alright everyone, that is all I have for you on the topic of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I don't know what else to say except that this was one of the best books I have read all year! Have you guys read this incredible novel? Let me know what you thought in the comments! What about Saenz's other works? Anyone familiar with them? I am anxious to read more from this incredible author! Thanks so much for stopping by to read my thoughts! Until next time, Happy Reading!


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