ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE: A Review

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.

THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY: A Review

This 2016 publication by Genevieve Cogman is a fantasy novel, the first in a series. It has been called, “… a stunning work of art that has me absolutely begging for more…” by The Fantasy Book Reviewer. I have to agree that it left me begging for more, and I have already ordered the second book which came out in September.  I cared about the characters and would certainly like to continue following them and their adventures/misadventures.

Irene, one of the protagonists, is the daughter of Librarians and a “professional spy for the mysterious Library”, which is an organization that collects important works of fiction from all the different realities. 

Kai is Irene’s assistant, and the mystery as to his secret/identity left me reeling as I read.

The two are assigned to an “alternate London,” whose world is “chaos infected”–meaning the laws of nature are bent by “supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic.” Irene and Kai are sent to retrieve a special book, but when arrive, they discover it has already been stolen.  Mystery upon mystery and calamity upon calamity occur, including mechanical, giant alligators and the sticky business (literally) of a massive silverfish invasion which starts underfoot and climbs the walls and anything (including Irene and Kai) that gets in its way.

Beset by “sinister secret societies,” the pair learns more about their alternate world, the motivation and politics behind their mission, and each other.

This is a perfect opportunity to get in at the ground floor of an exciting, spectacular series.

TUESDAY TEASER

Having discovered on Brainfluff, an excellent blog, this meme hosted by The Purple Booker, I am putting forth my Tuesday Teaser for this week.

Instructions were to choose a random sentence or two and type them hoping to tease others into reading the same book you are reading. Add yours here after mine by hitting Leave a Reply:

This teaser is from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a YA novel.  I am at the end of Chapter Eleven where Dante and Ari fifteen year old friends are about to part ways for a year because Dante’s professor father has taken a temporary position at another university.

“Dante hugged me.

I hugged him back.

‘See you in a few months,’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

‘I’ll write,’ he said.

I knew he would.

I wasn’t sure I’d write back.”

The book starts a whole new section after this as the two friends ponder the secrets of Life and the Universe-two boys so alike and so different all at the same time.  This is a magnificently written novel with mystery, friendship and family relationships, and excellent dialogue employed well.

THE STARPLACE by Vicki Grove: A Review

This 1999 YA novel has been sitting on my TBR shelf since buying it from Half Price Books’ Clearance several months ago.  I bought it to put out in my Little Free Library in the side yard, but I wanted to read it first. With Hurricane Harvey delaying the opening of schools, I had enough time to read more than usual this past week, and since the novel is set in the time I was in junior high and high school, during the height of the Civil Rights era and “forced” integration of schools, I was intrigued.

On the Puffin paperback, a reviewer describes it as dealing with Friendship…”in spite of racism.” Francine, aka Frannie and her friends Margot, Nancy, and Kelli, meet the new girl to Quiver, a small town in Oklahoma who is named Celeste.  She is the first African American the girls, and almost the town, have ever seen up close. Max, Theodore, and Jason–misfits at their junior high, are the girls’ “friends who are boys–not boyfriends.”

Frannie fancies herself a “modern” Nancy Drew, as this excerpt clearly shows:

“My name is Driscoll, F.E. Driscoll, girl detective…Driscoll will get to the bottom of this mystery of the searchers from the haunted house (Celeste and her father) no matter how many hours of secret surveillance it takes.”

Frannie’s impression of Celeste on the first day of seventh grade is that Celeste is “polished,” like her polished fingernails (Frannie bites hers) wearing saddle shoes, bobby socks, a circle skirt, and maintaining her composure amid curious and some malevolent stares. As Frannie and Celeste’s friendship deepens, meeting at the “rocket” in Frannie’s back yard, aka “The Starplace”, they exchange rhinestone bobby pins and become Star Sisters. Until she met Celeste, Frannie did not concern herself with the news on TV about sit-ins, firehosed young people or snarling dogs nipping at teenagers’ heels. She refused to listen to the evening news which poured out rhetoric about the “Red Threat” or even connect this with the “drills” they had begun at school.

All these fashions and things came directly out of my seventh and eighth grade years. Like Frannie, my folks tried to protect me from “such things,” never lying to me, but not bringing “delicate subjects that children don’t have to concern themselves with” up for discussion.

The book has a hilarious account of a patiently planned luau that turns out to be a catastrophe instead of making the four friends “popular” and cool. I laughed out loud. There is mystery; there is romance–a teen crush on Robin, Batman’s sidekick; and there is the complexity of best friends vs.new friends. Not only will young adults appreciate this peek into history (perhaps their grandparents’ day) but oldsters like me will look nostalgically back on kinder, simpler times which seemed so full of angst to us back then.

 

YA NOVEL, EVERY SOUL A STAR: A Review

Wendy Moss has written a young adult novel that interested me, and I am far from a young adult. She uses an interesting format; every three chapters alternate between the three main characters, Ally, Bree, and Jack.  The entire story is told from three separate points of view. Ally lives at Moon Shadow, a campground where the nearest town is an hour’s drive away. She gives star lectures at this perfect place to view the Great Eclipse as hundreds and thousands of tourists worldwide come to view the solar eclipse. Bree is Ally’s opposite, popular, gorgeous, whose goal is to be on the cover of Seventeen magazine before turning seventeen.  Jack is “overweight and awkward,”raised by a single mom.  He is an artist who daydreams and draws in class and has been given the opportunity to come assist his science teacher camp guide in lieu of going to summer school.

The book is often humorous, very warm, and very engaging. It is about “strangers coming together, unlikely friendships, and finding one’s own place in the universe.” It is not your typical romance, and focuses on friendships instead of sexual attraction.  It is a fast-paced, enjoyable read which kept me up late finishing it.

MONDAY MUSINGS SOPHIE’S WORLD by Jostein Gaarder: A Review

The paperback edition I read was a 20th anniversary edition and was advertised as being about “life, the universe, and everything” which made me think of Douglas Adams.  However, two books could not be more unalike.  Sophie, the fourteen year old protagonist who is about to turn fifteen and is just beginning to be aware of herself, her surroundings, and her life in general, begins to receive strange postcards and letters addressed to another fourteen year old girl halfway around the world named Hilde.  The letters seem to be from Hilde’s father who is making plans to return to her on her fifteenth birthday, but strangely enough they are sent in care of Sophie and addressed correctly to Sophie’s address.

The plot alone is enough to keep the reader interested, but the book turns out to be a study in philosophy from Plato and Socrates to Marx and Sartre. Sophie in Philosophy World takes twists and turns similar to Alice in Wonderland.  The book, as one critic said, is an “easily grasped way of thinking about difficult ideas. If nothing else, the book is highly original.

Published first in 1995, the paperback edition of this YA “classic” is available as of 2015, thus the 20th anniversary of its publication.

At times this is a hard read, but it is good review of the study of philosophers with examples given that are fairly easy to comprehend and apply.  This book will answer many questions, but it will keep you coming up with questions of your own.

ACCEPTABLE TIME by Madeline L’Engle: A Review

Polly, daughter of Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time, and neice of Sandy and Denys Murray of Many Waters, is spending time with her mother’s parents in New England. A neighbor, “Bishop Nase” manages to open a Time Gate which transports individuals back in time.  Both the Star Gazing Stone and the Old Wall act as portals for Polly on several occasions.  Meeting Anaral, a Druid who travels back and forth, and other characters from the time period, Polly and her cowardly friend Zak manage to become stuck 3,000 years before the present.

Back in time, Polly finds herself with The People of the Wind, and later captured by their enemies The People Across the Lake. They are besieged with drought and believe that a blood sacrifice is necessary to bring rain to their land and tribe.

Although the novel is not traditionally religious, it is spiritual and offers something for both believers and non-believers.

 

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas: A Review

This debut novel published this year (2017) has a very important message.  John Green, author of the phenomenal The Fault is in Our Stars, describes it as a “stunning, brilliant novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.” Another author says it is “fearlessly honest and heartbreakingly human.” Yet another calls it ” tragically timeless.” I don’t know if I agree with the “classic” label, maybe so among young adults as Green’s novels have come to be, but the other descriptions are right on the money.

Starr Carter is a seventeen year old African American girl living in the “bad” part of town, but she attends a prestigious college-prep high school on a scholarship. Chris, her white boyfriend may be the only stereotype in the novel; either he  truly loves her as he says he does, or he is “too good to be true.” One night, Starr, leaving a party where shots have been fired with her friend,Khalil, whom she’s known since they were three years old, are pulled over by the police, and unarmed Khalil is shot and dies in Starr’s arms. Starr’s parents who are extremely strict are supporting and generally cool, but are drawn into the chaos that Starr’s life becomes as the media invades her neighborhood and home, first describing her as an unnamed witness, then putting a name to the witness, informing all of her white, rich friends of her involvement and her background neighborhood, something she has been hiding from them. She hears things at school like, “He had it coming,” and “He must have been a drug dealer” before they know she was there when it happened.

The author explores the gulf between black and white, rich and poor, and paints Starr as an “ordinary girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances.” Issues of racism, police violence, gangs, and poverty are explored from the “inside.” If you, like me, were taught in first grade that “The policeman is our friend; if you get lost or separated from your parents, look for one,” then you are probably privileged and white like me.  This is an important book that everyone, young person or adult, should read.

MANY WATERS by Madeline L’Engle: A Review

Published in 1986       Takes place sometime after the Wrinkle in Time Trilogy

Sandy and Dennys Murry, twin brothers of Meg and Calvin Wallace Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time) are the “dull,” “ordinary” ones in the family until they interrupt their physicist dad’s computer experiment.  Then, they are in trouble, not just with their dad, but in cosmos-changing trouble.  Many waters were coming soon to the dessert oasis where they “landed”, and stories their mother told them as small children from the Bible, as well as many mythologies and folktales of a world-wide flood come rushing to their minds.

Unknown to them, their dad was experimenting with time travel, and the Genesis (from the Bible) people’s reaction to them, as well as their reaction to the people of “this other place” is the premise for the story.  Unicorns, mammoths (miniature size ones), seraphims, and nephils all appear in this book. Both boys, young teens, fall for the same girl, Yalith, and for the first time, the twins do not tell each other “everything.” Will they get themselves home in time to avoid the “many waters?”/The Great Flood? Will they get home, period? L’Engle’s philosophy shines through as the boys engage in conflicts both on a personal level and on a universal level.

The writing, plot, and characterization are brilliant. This is one of my favorite authors whether she is writing YA novels, memoirs and philosophy, or anything. I highly recommend this book.

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN: A Review

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.