Sunday, 1 March 2015

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

Sexuality. Teens get this thrust upon them - one day they are a child, the next things start to happen.  Hair sprouts, voices break, breasts burst, and somehow they have to get through to the other side and become fully formed adults.  That's a big ask at the best of times, besides what is going on in their heads.  Aristotle (that's his second name, for what boy would want to be called Angel?) or Ari for short, is growing up in El Paso, with a Mexican heritage, getting through school, talking to his parents and anyone else who crosses his path in one word sentences.  He's definitely a loner, has no friends, hasn't kissed a girl yet, is the family's "baby", and has three older siblings -twin sisters, old enough to be married with children of their own, and a brother who no-one talks about.  At the local swimming pool one day, Ari hears a voice.  "I can teach you to swim if you like?" - and there is Dante.  Dante who doesn't look like someone from a Mexican background;  Dante who speaks using whole sentences and words Ari has never even come across;  Dante who hates wearing shoes....  and the two become friends in the blink of an eye.

Dante likes boys.  Ari can't wait to kiss a girl.  Somehow this doesn't matter at all, and they spend a lot of time together, discovering life. I want to tell you more, but I want you to read this one, so my story-telling stops here.  Suffice to say, on the way to adulthood, these two find out a lot about themselves, others, and sexuality in general.  They fall out with each other, they fall back in,  their friendship something they both want.

Lovely characters in this book.  The boys are well-drawn, one more full of teen angst than the other but both having to face adulthood.  The parents, not perfect but described well, so that you can see that adults have troubling times too.  A couple of girls at school - Ari's friends, although he doesn't realise at first and tries to shake them off.  A couple of family secrets too - when Ari finds out that life can be as difficult for adults as it is for him.

The prize winning author Benjamin Alire Sáenz grew up in New Mexico speaking only Spanish.
He's written several books for children and young adults.  He teaches, so he's in the right place to observe the growing up process and transfer it on to the printed page.  I enjoyed the read - and the reminder of my earlier years.