Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe/Benjamin Alire Saenz: Reflections

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sunday afternoon I went off exploring. Found my way to the Chester Valley Trail and walked (and walked). Found my way to a bookstore. Found myself driving home with a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in hand.

Hours before, I'd had no plans. Suddenly I had a walk and a new book.

A book I loved.

Because this novel comes from such an honest, non-exploitative place. Because I believed in these two Mexican-American boys, finding their way into a deep friendship. Because there are no gimmicks here, no oft-returning tropes, no Big Concepts that flash like advertisements in the pages. Because both Aristotle and Dante have parents who love them, parents who look out for them, parents who give them room but also make them talk, parents who care most for their children's well-being. No schmaltz. No simplifying. No plot just for the sake of plot. A real, believable story about kids trying to learn about themselves.

I was reading, and I was saying Yes. Yes. Yes. I was reading, and I was thinking: Mr. Saenz, you deserve every award you have received for this book.

Here is Aristotle (Ari) talking to Dante's mom. We have companionship. We have compassion. We have love, but we have as well the fact that love is hard. Love is ridiculously hard. To give. To receive. To keep. Saenz knows that. He doesn't have to scream it, tag it, trick it, cute it. He just calls it like it is.
"You're a part of this family," she said. "There's no use fighting it."

"I'm sure I'll disappoint you someday, Mrs. Quintana."

"No," she said. And even though her voice could be so firm, right then her voice was almost as kind as my own mother's. You're so hard on yourself, Ari."

I shrugged. "Maybe that's just the way it is with me."

She smiled at me. "Dante's not the only one who missed you."

It was the most beautiful thing an adult who wasn't my mom or dad had ever said to me. And I knew that there was something about me that Mrs. Quintana saw and loved. And even though I felt it was a beautiful thing, I also felt it was a weight. Not that she meant it to be a weight. But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.


Melissa Sarno said...

There is SO much I loved about this book. A beautiful, beautiful story. The last few pages left me a bit puzzled. I wonder your thoughts on the ending ...

Serena said...

I cannot wait to get my hands on this one, but I must

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