Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

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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 ...

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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.

Winner of the 2013 Pura Belpré Author Award
Winner of the 2013 Stonewall Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature
Winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for LBGT Children's/YA Literature
A 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari) has always felt lonely and distant from people until he meets Dante, a boy from another school who teaches him how to swim. As trust grows between the boys and they become friends (a first for Ari), Ari’s world opens up while they discuss life, art, literature, and their Mexican-American roots. Additionally, the influence of Dante’s warm, open family (they even have a “no secrets” rule) is shaping Ari’s relationship with his parents, particularly in regard to a family secret; Ari has an older brother in prison, who no one ever mentions. In a poetic coming-of-age story written in concise first-person narrative, Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood) crystallizes significant turning points in the boys’ relationship, especially as Ari comes to understand that Dante’s feelings for him extend beyond friendship. The story swells to a dramatic climax as Ari’s loyalties are tested, and he confronts his most deeply buried fears and desires. It’s a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Primarily a character- and relationship-driven novel, written with patient and lyrical prose that explores the boys’ emotional lives with butterfly-wing delicacy."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Sáenz writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other...those struggling with their own sexuality may find it to be a thought-provoking read."
The Horn Book
"Ari’s first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance."
"Sáenz has written the greater love story, for his is the story of loving one’s self, of love between parents and children, and of the love that builds communities, in addition to the deepening love between two friends."
James Howe
"This book took my breath away. What gorgeous writing, and what a story! I loved both these boys. And their parents! Don't we all wish we had parents like theirs? The ending - and the way it unfolded - was so satisfying. I could go on and on...suffice it to say I will be highly recommending it to one and all. I'm sure I'll reread it myself at some point. I hated having it end."
Library Media Connection
"Sáenz is a master at capturing the conversation of teens with each other and with the adults in their lives."
Michael Cart
"I’m absolutely blown away. This is Saenz's best work by far...It’s a beautiful story, so beautifully told and so psychologically acute! Both Ari and Dante are simply great characters who will live on in my memory. Everything about the book is absolutely pitch perfect...It’s already my favorite book of the year!"
Judy Blundell
“Benjamin Alire Saenz is a writer with a sidewinder punch. Spare sentences connect resonant moments, and then he knocks you down with emotional truth. The story of Ari and Dante’s friendship widens and twists like a river, revealing truths about how hard love is, how family supports us, and how painfully deep you have to go to uncover an authentic self.”
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Fifteen-year-old Ari is a loner who is trying to figure out his place in the world when he meets Dante, a boy from another school. Despite their many economic, social, and personality differences, they quickly become best friends. It's complicated though; Ari wallows in his loneliness and anger caused by family secrets around his older brother who is in prison and his father's service in Vietnam. Dante, on the other hand, is outgoing, open, and erudite. The novel quietly and poetically explores family relationships, sexual and ethnic identity (both boys are Mexican Americans), heroism, PTSD, and drug and alcohol experimentation without being overwhelming. Ari narrates the story and it's easy to slide inside his mind as situations play out. He calls himself "inscrutable" and readily admits he doesn't understand himself—and neither does the reader who lives Ari's confusion, loneliness and anger throughout. Saenz never minimalizes or sensationalizes events and feelings; rather he quietly explores Ari's hesitant journey from childhood to manhood. Both boys have incredibly understanding parents, especially given that the story is set in Texas the 1980s. Otherwise characterizations are extremely well done, as is the novel's pacing. The book reads quickly, yet the reader feels suspended in time, living the year with Ari and Dante. As Ari confronts his deeply buried desires and fears, it's his parents who help him realize that making mistakes is part of life and encourage his taking off his self-imposed the blinders. As much about family, friendship, communication as it is about sexual identity, this is a truly powerful story. Reviewer: Peg Glisson
VOYA - Joanna Lima
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle "Ari" Mendoza prefers his own moodiness to the company of others. He is shadowed by memories of his incarcerated brother, of whom his parents never speak, while his father has nightmares of his service in the Vietnam War. In the heat of an El Paso summer, Ari unexpectedly makes a friend: Dante Quintana, an expressive boy who confesses to being crazy about his parents, swimming, art, and star-gazing. The boys hang out, explore their hometown, and—most importantly—laugh together. The Quintanas' easy family relationship helps Ari begin to understand the ghosts haunting his family, and the boys' parents also bond. The end of the summer is nearing when, in the midst of a rainstorm, Ari pushes Dante out of the path of an oncoming car, sustaining severe injuries himself. In the aftermath of the accident, as his body slowly heals, Ari wrestles with the meaning and consequences of his actions—what moved him to risk his life for Dante? How does saving a friend's life change the friendship? To answer his own questions, Ari must face the inevitability of growing from a boy to a man. Readers familiar with Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers (/Macmillan, 1983/VOYA October 1983) will find parallels in Saenz's novel. Dante and Ari are similar to Barry and Hal, though without their reckless behavior and unhealthy obsessions. Ultimately, Saenz has written the greater love story, for his is the story of loving one's self, of love between parents and children, and of the love that builds communities, in addition to the deepening love between two friends. Reviewer: Joanna Lima
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In the summer of 1987 in El Paso, TX, two 15-year-old loners meet when Dante offers to teach Ari to swim, and they have a laugh over their unusual names. Though polar opposites in most aspects other than age and Mexican heritage, the teens form an instant bond and become inseparable. This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return. Two incidents, one in which Ari saves Dante's life and his family's temporary move to Chicago, help Dante understand that he is gay and in love with his friend. Yet, Ari can't cross that line, and not until Dante is hospitalized in a gay-bashing incident does he begin to realize the true depth of the love he has for him. With the help of his formerly distant, Vietnam-damaged father, Ari is finally able to shed his shame—the shame of his anger, of his incarcerated brother, of being different—and transition from boy to man. While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.—Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfield
Kirkus Reviews
A boring summer stretches ahead of Ari, who at 15 feels hemmed in by a life filled with rules and family secrets. He doesn't know why his older brother is in prison, since his parents and adult sisters refuse to talk about it. His father also keeps his experience in Vietnam locked up inside. On a whim, Ari heads to the town swimming pool, where a boy he's never met offers to teach him to swim. Ari, a loner who's good in a fight, is caught off guard by the self-assured, artistic Dante. The two develop an easy friendship­, ribbing each other about who is more Mexican, discussing life's big questions, and wondering when they'll be old enough to take on the world. An accident near the end of summer complicates their friendship while bringing their families closer. Sáenz's interplay of poetic and ordinary speech beautifully captures this transitional time: " 'That's a very Dante question,' I said. 'That's a very Ari answer,' he said.… For a few minutes I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of the universe of almost-men." Plot elements come together at the midpoint as Ari, adding up the parts of his life, begins to define himself. Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author's gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships. (Fiction. 14 & up)
The Barnes & Noble Review

"The problem with my life," says fifteeen-year-old Aristotle, called Ari, "was that it was someone else's idea." The "son of a man who had Vietnam living inside of him," and nearly a generation younger than his other siblings, one of whom has been imprisoned for a mysterious crime, Ari has grown up lonely and uncomfortable in his own skin. Even his mother, a warm, candid high school teacher who knows a bit about feeling like an outsider in her own community — "I'm an educated woman," she tells him, "That doesn't un-Mexicanize me" — can't seem to get him interested in spending time with other people.

But that all changes when Ari meets Dante in the public pool in El Paso, Texas in the summer of 1987. Like Ari, Dante is the son of educated Mexican-American parents (his father is a professor, his mother a therapist) who don't quite fit any more within their own families. But while Ari often turns his discomfort to rage; Dante isn't afraid to read poetry in public and to cry over dead birds. "He looked a little fragile — but he wasn't," says Ari. "He was disciplined and tough and knowledgeable and he didn't pretend to be stupid and ordinary?. Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural."

After the summer, the two boys spend a year apart, and Ari begins to feel that his friendship with Dante might cause him more discomfort than it alleviates. But he realizes that, in order to grow up, he needs to finally get along in the company of others: "Man loneliness was much bigger than boy loneliness," he says. "I didn't want to live in my parents' world and I didn't have a world of my own." Saenz, the author of many novels and poetry collections for both adults and teens, uses expansive language and a subtle plot to show how two boys become men by creating a world they can live in.

Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.

Reviewer: Amy Benfer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606351171
  • Publisher: Demco Media
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 284,433
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an American Book Award–winning author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. 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 Angels Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Books 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.

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Read an Excerpt


ONE SUMMER NIGHT I FELL ASLEEP, HOPING THE WORLD would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in through my open window.

My hand reached for the dial on the radio. “Alone” was playing. Crap, “Alone,” a song by a group called Heart. Not my favorite song. Not my favorite group. Not my favorite topic. “You don’t know how long . . .”

I was fifteen.

I was bored.

I was miserable.

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

The DJ was saying annoying, obvious things like, “It’s summer! It’s hot out there!” And then he put on that retro Lone Ranger tune, something he liked to play every morning because he thought it was a hip way to wake up the world. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Who hired this guy? He was killing me. I think that as we listened to the William Tell Overture, we were supposed to be imagining the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding their horses through the desert. Maybe someone should have told that guy that we all weren’t ten-year-olds anymore. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Crap. The DJ’s voice was on the airwaves again: “Wake up, El Paso! It’s Monday, June fifteenth, 1987! 1987! Can you believe it? And a big ‘Happy Birthday’ goes out to Waylon Jennings, who’s fifty years old today!” Waylon Jennings? This was a rock station, dammit! But then he said something that hinted at the fact that he might have a brain. He told the story about how Waylon Jennings had survived the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. On that note, he put on the remake of “La Bamba” by Los Lobos.

“La Bamba.” I could cope with that.

I tapped my bare feet on the wood floor. As I nodded my head to the beat, I started wondering what had gone through Richie Valens’s head before the plane crashed into the unforgiving ground. Hey, Buddy! The music’s over.

For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.

© 2012 Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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