Teen Stuff: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I’ve declared 2013 the year of reading, and I’ve been on a mad tear reading a lot of young adult fiction, and so far Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by poet Benjamin Alire Sáenz, has been my favorite. It is beautifully written, is magically captivating, and I read it in a day.

In January the book won several awards at the Youth Media Awards including a coveted Printz Honor Award, the Stonewall Award, and the Belpré Award.

15 year old Angel Aristotle Mendoza (Ari) is practically an only child with two older sisters and a ghost of a brother who has been in prison for as long as Ari can remember. It’s hard for Ari growing up in a quiet house with so much unspoken regarding his brother and his dad’s past in Vietnam. He has no friends until one day at the community pool he meets a kid named Dante Quintana when he offers to teach Ari how to swim. The boys spend forever laughing when they realize their names are Dante and Aristotle and an immediate bond is formed, just in time for summer.

While they form a strong friendship, Dante's family life is very different from Ari’s. His father is a professor and he and Dante are forever reading and discussing books. It’s not long before Ari gets in on the action as well. The self-assured Dante talks in his unusual way and draws, Ari is an angry sort of quiet and listens, and the boys read and swim and have summer teen adventures, until one day tragedy strikes. What will happen to their friendship as their lives begin to change? It’s a touching, coming of age story about friendship and loyalty, figuring out who you are, discovering family secrets, dealing with tragedy, and just trying to get by in this Universe.