LGBTQ week of my diversity in youth literature course forced me to read a book I’d heard a lot about but had never gotten around to, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It was published in 2012 and won the Stonewall award.
Aristotle (Ari) is an introverted teen without many friends. One day at the pool, he meets Dante, who offers to teach him how to swim. An interesting friendship blossoms in which books are shared, jokes are told, feelings ripen one way and then another, and ultimately, a life is saved in the nick of time. This book follows Ari and Dante as they meet, move away from each other for a year, and then reconnect. All along the way, Dante is openly struggling with his sexuality and eventually, Ari realizes that maybe he is too. There’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol, a dog, a car accident, a death in the family, and more on their year-or-so long journey.
This is a book about friendship and love and families and while it’s very well written, I wasn’t as compelled as I expected to be. Maybe because of the fact that Ari wasn’t a very enjoyable character to spend so much time with, especially in his head. His indecisiveness was infuriating, and while this was a book for my LGBTQ week in class, I could think of much better books that actually really get into the LGBTQ experience without waiting til the last fifty pages and centering it around gay-bashing. But maybe that’s just my preference. I appreciated the family dynamic a lot, and the way it grappled with race and also violence, but at the end of the day, this book just didn’t do it for me. It didn’t keep me drawn in, and ultimately, I wasn’t rooting for Ari. Maybe if this had been from Dante’s point of view I would have enjoyed it more. Hard to tell.
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