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?

My Writing Process (Bunny Hop) Blog Hop

A Florida bunny.
A Florida bunny.
Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny.
Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny for Halloween.

Thanks to Laura Sibson, I am participating in a “My Writing Process” Blog Hop. I added the Bunny Hop part as a nod to Easter, Spring, and my own beautiful Tween Bunny who is my first reader.

Laura Sibson
Laura Sibson

Laura earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts after discovering a passion for writing novels geared toward teens. Laura’s a fellow runner (she runs much longer distances than me), dog-walker, coffee-drinker, “ingester-of-pop culture,” and mom of teens. She lives in suburban Philadelphia and has impressed me with her knowledge of “Bawlmor” accents.

Laura describes the paranormal young adult novel she’s writing on her blog, Laura Sibson, A journey toward writing dangerously. Her novel sounds spooky and fascinating, and it involves the Black Aggie, a real statue that used to reside a stone’s throw away from my parents’ house, in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Do you think its a coincidence that Laura connected with a Bmore girl? I don’t know, hon. You’ll have to ask her!

My Writing Process Questions and Answers:

What are you working on?

Coco, the main character in my chapter book is based on a true story and a real dog. An article describing how a dog ended up on a NJ Transit train headed to Manhattan appeared in my local paper. We had recently adopted a puppy. A story was born! Coco’s inherent doggie abilities and desire to find bones will, hopefully, lead him on many adventures (meaning more chapter books).

In the picture book series I’m writing, my five year-old main character wanted to become a superhero just like his big brother. In the first book, he did it! Now he’s off to conquer the world (and his fears) as the fastest superhero ever.  I’m working on books about the day he thought his mommy was a zombie and about the time he battled deep sea creatures at the town pool.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Guess what one of my goals is? Hint: it’s in the name of my blog.  ENERGY!

I hope my writing grabs readers from the get-go! My manuscripts are populated by relatable characters, alliteration, funny phrases, and a dash of silliness. The universal theme underlying all of my manuscripts is family.  Whether the action revolves around siblings or parents and their children, the action happens between the humor and heart.

Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.
Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.

In my chapter book, Coco stays true to his doggie characteristics, but his impulsivity takes him to unexpected places. He meets a zany cast of characters along the way and, inadvertently, saves the day while on the search for the perfect bone. This chapter book (and the others I plan to write), will fill the gap for elementary school kids who are one step beyond First Readers but not yet ready for longer chapter books.

My nephew, my muse.
My nephew, my muse.

Logan, my latest picture book‘s main character, is just like real little boys. How do I know? Because he’s a compilation of my “superhero” nephew, my son, and the boys I teach at pre-school and at the elementary school. My nephew says, “Activate! Pshht! Pow!” So does Logan. My nephew says things are “mega.”  So does Logan. Sibling rivalry amongst my triplets plus one more was rampant.  My hope is that kids will love Logan and his brother’s vivid imaginations while parents will appreciate the heart of the story.

Why do you write what you do?

I write because ideas pop into my head, words and phrases tumble off my tongue, and characters stand in front of me, tail wagging and arms crossed, begging to be brought to life.

I write because the child inside of me connects to children from toddlers to teenagers.  I still love playing in a sandbox, climbing to the top of the swingset, and sledding down a hill at lightning speed.

I write because I believe stories are magical.

How does your writing process work?

An idea or a character or a turn of phrase will start off as a wisp of thought. The ideas, characters and turns of phrases that stay in my head like a song-on-the-radio-you-can’t-stop-singing must be written down. If scenes start appearing in my mind’s eye, while I’m driving, running errands, walking Lucy and, always, when I try to go to sleep, then I have to get my thoughts on paper. The process has begun.

First drafts go to my wonderful critique group. I revise. Second drafts are critiqued. I revise.  Etc!

My most important revision tools are a thesaurus, dictionary, rhyming dictionary and critiques from my group (or an editor or agent, if I’m lucky). More importantly, I take my watch off, don’t answer the phone, concentrate on listening to how my characters would speak and inhabit the world I’ve created.

Last November, I signed up for Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge to come up with a new picture book idea for a month.  Thirty new ideas are now residing in my Idea Box.

Joining the My Writing Process Blog Hop, I’d like to introduce you to (drumroll, please):

Michelle Karéne
Michelle Karéne

 Michelle Karéne

Michelle and I connected on Twitter (Michelle on Twitter, me on Twitter).  Michelle not only has a blog called Michelle Karéne, Children’s Author, is a member of SCBWI and an aspiring children’s writer, she earned her doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, works for a biotechnology company, and has published fifteen articles in various scientific journals. Michelle’s short story, “Magnolia Fall,” will be published in the 14th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection. Michelle, who lives in North Carolina with her family, blogs about her chapter book and young adult works-in-progress, funny things her three daughters say, nature photographs and dinner ideas.  I hope you’ll check out her blog.

Thanks for reading, hon!

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing–Blog Hop Part II

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Recently, I participated in The Next Big Thing–Blog Hop thanks to the fabulous young adult writer, L.A. Byrne.  Describing aspects of writing the picture book Cora Gets Carried Away made my main character, Cora, feel real.  I met a writer of middle grade fantasy, Leslie Zampetti at a SCBWI Meditation Workshop and tagged her as a writer to watch.  I have one more writer to introduce.

Kim Beck and I went to college together and, along with four other girls, lived together in  a house junior year.  We go a lonnng way back.  Who would have guessed that her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter would be born just three months apart, that I would live in her hometown and that we would both be bitten by the writing bug?  (Speaking of bugs, check out the newly released picture book Bug Patrol by Denise Dowling Mortensen or what non-fiction author Lyn Sirota says is her secret.)

Back to Kim.  In her “The Next Big Thing–Blog Hop” post, she provides a link to the first chapter of her young adult dystopian novel, The Interpreters.  Love it!  (and not just because I’m biased).

Hon, I now end my cover letters and queries to publishers with “Hope Springs Eternal” because WE are the Next Big Things.

Which children’s book authors have made an impression on you?