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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz


The story is narrated by the titular “Ari” who one day goes to the public pool, and meets Dante, who offers to teach him to swim. The boys strike up a friendship, and the novel follows them through many adventures, dangers, and a year spent apart while Dante’s family is in Chicago. As Dante becomes more comfortable with his emerging homosexuality, Ari tries to learn how to continue relating to him as a friend. Both boys encounter discrimination and acts of violence as a result of their friendship; much of the novel is spent with one or another recuperating from illness or injury.

I was pleasantly surprised by this YA novel, which I picked up randomly during a browsing session at my local library. I really appreciated that it had characters that were Hispanic and characters that were LGBT, a combination which is still fairly rare in YA fiction. The novel also addresses issues of race and family; the boys’ parents become good friends, and enjoy reflecting on their shared culture. Dante’s father is a professor, and another character comments on how she had never had a teacher who was the same race as she was. Little moments such as that demonstrate that Saenz is not just writing multicultural fiction to sell to an audience — he has lived the experience of being a minority in America, and is writing it into his books.

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