Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason. Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.
Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely. Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”
The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents. Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship, love, the Latino lifestyle, and teenage angst as he describes places and events that will keep the reader engaged.
As the novel opens, we hear Ari speaking to himself:
“The problem of my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” Everything that follows , everything that happens to him and what he does seems to be “someone else’s idea” until he meets Dante, and everything changes. The two boys seek out and at the end discover, together, The Secrets of the Universe. I give this book a rating of ten out of ten, and recommend it to all ages who appreciate beautiful writing and a darned good story.
Published in 2007 by author Sherman Alexie, this YA novel was our Third Tuesday Book Club selection for the month of May. The group’s discussion is tomorrow night. Other than some pretty rough language (but then that’s the way some teenagers talk), the book was a good read. It was funny, sad, heartbreaking, uplifting–all at one time. The author is also a cartoonist and a poet, and the story is filled with insightful cartoons and poetic expressions in places. It is the story of a boy who overcomes poverty, a medical condition from birth, fear, and loneliness as he comes of age.
The story is well told, and characters range from stereotypes to unique individuals. Arnold Spirit (his Reardon School name) aka Junior (his reservation name) is a protagonist who puts his “raw emotion” out there for the reader to experience. Rowdy, his best friend since earliest childhood is his protector and confidant, which makes his refusal to go off the reservation to the “white school” with Junior/Arnold and his hate directed towards him all the worse. Gordy is his new, nerdy friend at the white Reardon high school, and Penelope, the gorgeous white girl becomes Junior/Arnold’s girlfriend. The clash between the characters is more than troubling to the protagonist. His family, a alcoholic but loving father, a smart mother, and a spiritual, tolerant grandmother round out the cast of characters.
The novel gives insights into Native American folklore and superstition as well as “Reservation Philosophy” and thought. For a boy born with hydro-encephalitis and who has “been to 42 funerals by the time he is fourteen,” there is a lot to overcome. The humor is typically adolescent male humor and raunchy at times, but not to the point of offending.
I do not know if I would recommend this book to a younger teenager, but a young adult with his/her “head on straight” might really enjoy this book. It will be interesting to hear what older adults thought of it tomorrow night.