Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Book Review

During quarantine and this unprecedented time, there are the projects I’ve gotten done, the things half finished, and a bunch of projects I haven’t even started. And then there are books. I’ve been reading a lot so, hon, so get ready for a bunch of book reviews.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe is a beautifully written coming-of-age YA contemporary novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. It’s no wonder the novel, published in 2012, garnered so many awards! I was invested in the main characters’ relationship, families, backgrounds, and thoughts on the worlds they lived in. The story drew me in, made me laugh out loud, and brought tears to my eyes.

What’s the book about?
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari) has always felt lonely and distant from people until he meets Dante, a boy from another school who teaches him how to swim. As trust grows between the boys and they become friends (a first for Ari), Ari’s world opens up while they discuss life, art, literature, and their Mexican-American roots. Additionally, the influence of Dante’s warm, open family (they even have a “no secrets” rule) is shaping Ari’s relationship with his parents, particularly in regard to a family secret; Ari has an older brother in prison, who no one ever mentions. In a poetic coming-of-age story written in concise first-person narrative, Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood) crystallizes significant turning points in the boys’ relationship, especially as Ari comes to understand that Dante’s feelings for him extend beyond friendship. The story swells to a dramatic climax as Ari’s loyalties are tested, and he confronts his most deeply buried fears and desires. It’s a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame.  Publisher’s Weekly
Memorable Quotes:
“One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger than our minds.”
“Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”
“Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you’re thinking but because you’re feeling. Because you’re feeling too much. And you can’t always control the things you do when you’re feeling too much.”
“Why do we smile? Why do we laugh? Why do we feel alone? Why are we sad and confused? Why do we read poetry? Why do we cry when we see a painting? Why is there a riot in the heart when we love? Why do we feel shame? What is that thing in the pit of your stomach called desire?”
Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe? What did you think?

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, Book Review

I gravitate toward books where the main characters are children or teens, even if the genre is adult and not middle grade or young adult. I find children’s innocence, loss of innocence, and coming-of-age deep, beautiful, and truthful. I had read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak’s , an exquisite, devastating story that has taken permanent residence in my thoughts, and looked forward to reading his new novel, Bridge of Clay. In both books, Zusak takes his time building worlds, alternating points of view, time and place. Patience pays off, because the second I finished Bridge of Clay, I vowed to read it again so that I can study and savor the way Zusak uses language.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome? (Goodreads)

Quotes from Bridge of Clay:

Once, in the tide of Dunbar past – long before kitchens and boys, and murderers and mules – there was a many-named woman. And what a woman she was.
First, of course, the name she was born with: Penelope Lesciuszko.
Then the one christened at her piano: the Mistake Maker.
Her factory name was Penny Lessing.
Her unfortunate, self-proclaimed nickname was the Broken-Nosed Bride.
And last, the name she died with: Penny Dunbar.
Quite fittingly, she had travelled from a place that was best described by a certain phrase in the books she was raised on.
She came from a watery wilderness.

“At the building and glasswork were them — Michael and Penny Dunbar — and at the bottom of the Opera House stairway, five boys had appeared, and stood standing…and soon they came down to meet us. And we walked back out — through the crowds and words of people, and a city all swollen with sun. And death came walking with us.”

Let me tell you about our brother.
The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.