Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
This is a sweet story about a deep friendship between two boys. They meet at the pool when Dante teaches Ari to swim, and their relationship deepens when Ari saves Dante from being hit by a car. Ari is withdrawn and quiet, and the more voluble and animated Dante brings him out of himself. Both are Mexican-American, but feel somewhat disconnected from that culture because they’re second-generation. There are many silences in Ari’s house, especially about his brother who’s in jail and about his father’s service in Vietnam (The setting is 1987 Texas). Ari’s growth makes these silences unsustainable, and he learns about his parents and about suffering though finally hearing their stories.
Ari’s voice is one of the main appeals of the book. He feels things very deeply, but doesn’t know how to handle his emotions, especially anger. One of the main sources of tension in the book is about masculinity and how Ari feels he must act a certain way to be a man. Masculinity is connected with violence in his community, and he struggles to break that cycle and grow into a new kind of man. The novel’s biggest conflict comes from Dante’s homosexuality and its impact on his friendship with Ari. That makes the book somewhat unusual for YA lit: I feel like there aren’t many books with gay characters, so it was nice to find a book that represents an often-overlooked perspective.