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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: 10/05/15
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz won the 2013 Stonewall Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature. Ari and Dante are a pair of Mexican American teens who save for their hyphenated heritage couldn't be any more different if they tried. Yet a set of circumstances thrust them together and they become friends over the summer.
Ari is an angry teen with a brother in prison. He's over protected because of his brother's mistakes and he screams at the world for this sense of injustice. Dante's an only child of academics; his life is fairly liberal and very open. There's a lot of touching in Dante's family.
The first half of the book is Ari being completely befuddled by Dante's happy go luck approach to life. Dante never wears shoes. He loves to draw. He's super close to his family. It's just all so perfect that it walks a fine line between saccharine and creepy.
And then book takes a right turn and for a variety of reasons the two are separated.
With physical and emotional pain to work through, Ari takes up alcohol. Dante, perhaps out of loneliness, and certainly out of boredom (because of course, all super smart kids get bored), takes up drugs.
And somewhere in all that mess, the boys realize they have feelings for each other.
The drugs and alcohol is a hot heaping pile of plot convenience, than actual character development. Yes, Ari's brother screwed up and yes, he's angry. But that shouldn't automatically damn Ari to alcoholism. Likewise, yes, Dante's family is very liberal and somewhat laissez faire with their parenting, but again, I don't see Dante suddenly turning to drugs. He's so creatively driven that he doesn't need drugs.
It's not that there shouldn't be books about underage drinking and drug use but here it felt like a means for creating tension and nothing else. It didn't feel organic. It didn't seem to fit the characters. It felt like a stalling tactic to keep the boys apart until closer to the end.