The Ancients Get an 80's Update
Another reason why I love Amazon is the "Suggested" section. Whenever I'm scrolling through the site looking for new things to buy, whether that be a phone case or a Brita filter, I can always count on the "Suggested" section to distract me and turn my 5-minute shopping trip into a 50-minute shopping excursion. While this section of the site may not always give me something good or even remotely close to the other things that I'm looking at, many times it has gifted me the suggestion of an item which I in turn am genuinely interested in. Such was the case with this wonderful book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
What Made Me Read This Book? The title caught my attention first. I found this book after finishing my first semester at college and while I knew a little about these men, my curriculum taught me a little bit more. So at first glance I thought maybe this was a book about the ancient philosopher and poet and wondered why Amazon was suggesting it to me. But then I noticed the cover, with the swirling lettering, tribal prints, and very modern bright red pick up truck. I became very interested in trying to figure out how all these things, old and new, came together in one novel. So I did as any good literary detective would do - I ordered the book.
In 1980s Texas, Aristotle and Dante find each other one hot summer where all the locals run to be - the pool. One problem: Aristotle can't swim. But luckily for him, Dante can. What begins as a stranger giving another stranger swimming lessons turns into a friendship neither teenager expected. From made-up games to drives out into the desert, Ari and Dante find in each other the best friend that each was looking for but could never quite locate. But after a tragic accident leaves Ari in a hospital near-death, his recovery comes with new discoveries that maybe there's more to this friendship than either boy expected. But when era and ethnicity get in the way, discovering the path forward becomes even harder.
My Rating: ✯✯✯✯✯ - I can say without a doubt that this is one of the sweetest books that I have ever read. While it comes with its fair share of heart-stopping and tear-jerking moments, the happy ending (something so rare in the books I read) moved this novel right into my personal Top 10.
Why? This book doesn't feel like a quick read. It feels slow, but in a good way. Like when you're at a restaurant and watching the flame on a wick slowly melt the wax of a candle. Thats more how this book feels. Aristotle and Dante are opposites in many ways. Ari has siblings while Dante is an only child. Though both are Mexican, Ari has a deeper complexion while Dante is light enough to have his race questioned by those he meets. Ari is like a safe, with his emotions kept under lock and key while Dante is an open book, readily wearing his heart on his sleeve. What these boys share is the need for a friend. A real friend to confide in and have fun with. While each boy has a supportive family (something almost shocking to find in a YA book), neither felt like they could be 100% their authentic self until they found each other. And all of this is only Act 1. Going from that point and watching the rest of the story unfold was as thrilling as it was terrifying. From the best of goods to the worst of bads, this novel did not try to shield me from anything, opening itself up and revealing each characters vulnerabilities and flaws. Still, I fell in love with Aristotle and Dante and would willingly follow their story wherever it wishes to take me if it ever continues.
*Also, a bonus point for lead characters that are people of color.
**And another bonus point for the 80s, because I love the 80s.
Favorite Quote: "The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain."