Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante meet one summer in high school.  Ari can't swim.  Dante teaches him, and even though they are incredibly different, the two become close friends.  Ari's brother is in prison, and he doesn't even know why.  His family won't talk about it.  All the not talking presses on Ari, until he isn't sure what to do or where to turn.  And all the while there's Dante, seeming to love him unconditionally, which might be more than Ari can stand.

This was beautiful.  It was just beautiful.  It was moving and heartfelt.  It explored sexuality and friendship and growing up and family and what happens when you hold things inside.  I thought the sparse writing style was perfect.  I loved it.  And I was teary at the end.  While there are many books I love and that have moved me, I really don't often cry over books.  But I was just so happy, at the end, and had such a feeling of, "at last, the universe if finally making sense for Ari and he so deserves it and I'm so glad," I had tears in my eyes.

Ari was a wonderful character.  Despite the fact that he was the narrator of the entire book, and it was a first person narration, it was very hard to get to know him, and know what he was really thinking.  The writing style worked perfectly for this.  Dialogue was realistic, which meant short, chopped sentences.  It never felt choppy, however.  It was kind of amazing how lyrical and smooth it was.  It somehow came out seeming poetic, rather than choppy are terse.

Ari's parent's both love him very much, that is clear, but they are not a family that shares their feelings.  And they never, ever, talk about Ari's much older brother who is in prison.  Ari doesn't know why he's in prison.  He misses him.  He feels the absence.  And he constantly feels all the not talking that his family isn't doing.  His father was in Vietnam, and returned physically sound by psychologically damaged.  He cannot talk about the war.  He cannot talk about much of anything.  Ari is a loner.  A lot of that is because he isolates himself.  He does not seem to fit in with the other boys.  And Ari likes being alone.  He is uncomfortable with other people.

Dante has a large, outgoing personality.  He's happy and upbeat and always talking.  He has great parents who love him and who he can talk to about anything.  Dante has no problem approaching people and talking to them.  Despite all this, Dante also doesn't have any close friends.  He is a loner in a different way.  He too feels apart from others.  Ari is the only one he really feels close too.  And as Dante realizes he's gay, Ari is the one he falls in love with.

There was just so much going on in this book, but it all went together seamlessly.  It never felt like there was too much.  The focus was not even so much Ari and Dante's relationship.  It was more the harm that can be done when people don't talk to each other.  When people are not able to express themselves or talk to others, especially those that love them and care about them, it causes pain and sadness.

Ari saw this in many ways.  He can't talk to his parents about what he most wants to know - what happened to his brother, and why they act like his brother is dead.  Because of this, he is closed off from everything else.  Ari sufferers some serious depression at some points, as he begins to feel everything closing in on him, and since he can't talk about it he doesn't know what to do.

Even in Dante's seemingly perfect family, there are things that aren't talked about.  Dante can't tell his parents that he's gay.  He's afraid of disappointing them.  It's actually Ari who is able to talk to them about it.

Aside from not being able to speak, there was also the look at being a dark-skinned verses a light-skinned Mexican.  Dante is very light skinned, and is self-conscious about it.  It's practically the only thing that makes him feel uncomfortable.  He says he doesn't feel Mexican.

There is, of course, the issues of sexuality, and the discovering yourself and who you are.  And when you discover your gay, and you're open with it, the dangers that can come with it.

When Ari and his family finally started talking at the end, and that in turn lead Ari to be able to speak honestly with Dante, I was just so happy.  Finally!  It was so long coming!

I can't do it justice.  Just read it.  It's really, really good.

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