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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

2012/09/10

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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