Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (do not ask me how to pronounce his last name – sah-ENZ maybe? SAH-enz? Senz?) is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read a lot of good books lately. There are four medals printed on the cover from four prestigious literary award giving out institutions, and they are all deserved.
This is a coming of age story told from the perspective of Aristotle Mendoza, a Mexican-American boy living in El Paso in the late 80s. (Ari is the class of 1988, just like me.) Ari is a loner, unknowable even to himself, so he says. His father, a Vietnam Vet, lives silently in the war still, his brother is in prison and unspoken of, and his twin sisters are adults with families of their own. His mother is easy to get along with, but she’s still a Mom, and mysterious in her own way. Ari comes across Dante Quintana at the public pool one day. Dante seems to be everything Ari isn’t: articulate and friendly and comfortable in his own skin. Their friendship is tested by actual life-and-death events, and how the boys react to the same circumstances both highlights their differences and the importance of their friendship.
There’s so much in this deceptively simple book. The plot line is easy to follow. The sentences are short and to the point, almost Hemingway-esque. The vocabulary doesn’t push you. But don’t let the simple face of the prose fool you. This book made me cry, and not because it was sad. Because there was so much emotion in it I had to let it out somehow. It was spare and beautiful without ever being maudlin or heavy. There is no doubt in my mind that Ari and Dante are real people – who would now be middle aged – and I kind of wish I could give them a call.
To read more about this book, or to buy a copy, check out this handy-dandy Amazon link.
Lori B. Duff is the author of the Amazon ‘Hot New Release’ Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza, a collection of autobiographical humor essays. The hard copy of the book can be found on Amazon & BarnesandNoble.com and select local retailers. The e-book can be found here. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.