Reviews for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Booklist Reviews 2012 January #1
When Aristotle and Dante meet, in the summer of 1987, they are 15-year-olds existing in "the universe between boys and men." The two are opposites in most ways: Dante is sure of his place in the world, while Ari feels he may never know who he is or what he wants. But both are thoughtful about their feelings and interactions with others, and this title is primarily focused on the back-and-forth in their relationship over the course of a year. Family issues take center stage, as well as issues of Mexican identity, but the heart of the novel is Dante's openness about his homosexuality and Ari's suppression of his. Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, 2004) writes toward the end of the novel that "to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing." And that's exactly what Sáenz does--he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other. This moves at a slower pace than many YA novels, but patient readers, and those struggling with their own sexuality, may find it to be a thought-provoking read. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
Two boys, Ari and Dante, strike up a friendship that will change their lives in ways both subtle and profound. When Ari saves Dante's life but breaks his own legs in the process, it cements the bond between the two Mexican American families. Ari's first-person narrative--poetic, philosophical, honest--skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #2
Aristotle -- Ari for short -- meets Dante at the pool one summer day in 1987, and the two boys quickly strike up a friendship that will change their lives in ways both subtle and profound. Ari admires Dante's gregarious personality, his intellectual curiosity, and his close bond with his parents, especially his father. In contrast, Ari's own father, a Vietnam vet, remains aloof, damaged by his experience of war, and both parents refuse to discuss his imprisoned older brother. When Ari saves Dante's life but breaks his own legs in the process, it not only strengthens their friendship but cements the bond between the two Mexican American families. When Dante's father leaves El Paso for a one-year position at the University of Chicago, the boys stay in touch through letters. Dante had telegraphed his sexual attraction to Ari, but now comes out to his friend in writing. When Dante returns, the two cautiously resume their friendship, but when Dante gets beat up in an alley for kissing another boy, it's a catalyst for Ari to examine how he really feels about Dante. Ari's first-person narrative -- poetic, philosophical, honest -- skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance, leading to the inevitable conclusion: "How could I have ever been ashamed of loving Dante Quintana?" jonathan hunt Copyright 2012 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 May #1
A boring summer stretches ahead of Ari, who at 15 feels hemmed in by a life filled with rules and family secrets. He doesn't know why his older brother is in prison, since his parents and adult sisters refuse to talk about it. His father also keeps his experience in Vietnam locked up inside. On a whim, Ari heads to the town swimming pool, where a boy he's never met offers to teach him to swim. Ari, a loner who's good in a fight, is caught off guard by the self-assured, artistic Dante. The two develop an easy friendship­, ribbing each other about who is more Mexican, discussing life's big questions, and wondering when they'll be old enough to take on the world. An accident near the end of summer complicates their friendship while bringing their families closer. Sáenz's interplay of poetic and ordinary speech beautifully captures this transitional time: " 'That's a very Dante question,' I said. 'That's a very Ari answer,' he said.… For a few minutes I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of the universe of almost-men." Plot elements come together at the midpoint as Ari, adding up the parts of his life, begins to define himself. Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author's gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships. (Fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Bored and angry in the summer of 1987, 15-year-old Ari heads to the pool even though he cannot swim. Dante, a boy his same age, offers to teach him, beginning a friendship that will leave them wholly changed. Both are Mexican Americans, and there the similarity ends. Where Dante is an only child, open and loving with his intellectual family, Ari (short for Aristotle) is closed, brooding over the secret of a brother in prison. When Dante comes out to his friend, and confesses that his feelings for him might be more than Platonic (pun intended), Ari stays loyal despite his uncertainty, because for him, a world with Dante is much better than one without him. Together they attempt to unravel the secrets of the universe, and of their own families. Sáenz' gifts for lyric prose and pitch-perfect dialog communicate the inner workings of a complex, loving, narrator, on the verge of discovering the truth of his own body in a book that is as beautiful as the desert sky on the outskirts of the boy's native El Paso. -- "35 Going on 13" LJ Reviews 6/21/12 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Word on the Street Lit, 6/21

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 December #3

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. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 February

Gr 9 Up--In the summer of 1987 in El Paso, TX, two 15-year-old loners meet when Dante offers to teach Ari to swim, and they have a laugh over their unusual names. Though polar opposites in most aspects other than age and Mexican heritage, the teens form an instant bond and become inseparable. This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return. Two incidents, one in which Ari saves Dante's life and his family's temporary move to Chicago, help Dante understand that he is gay and in love with his friend. Yet, Ari can't cross that line, and not until Dante is hospitalized in a gay-bashing incident does he begin to realize the true depth of the love he has for him. With the help of his formerly distant, Vietnam-damaged father, Ari is finally able to shed his shame--the shame of his anger, of his incarcerated brother, of being different--and transition from boy to man. While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.--Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfield

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VOYA Reviews 2012 February
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle "Ari" Mendoza prefers his own moodiness to the company of others. He is shadowed by memories of his incarcerated brother, of whom his parents never speak, while his father has nightmares of his service in the Vietnam War. In the heat of an El Paso summer, Ari unexpectedly makes a friend: Dante Quintana, an expressive boy who confesses to being crazy about his parents, swimming, art, and star-gazing. The boys hang out, explore their hometown, and--most importantly--laugh together. The Quintanas' easy family relationship helps Ari begin to understand the ghosts haunting his family, and the boys' parents also bond. The end of the summer is nearing when, in the midst of a rainstorm, Ari pushes Dante out of the path of an oncoming car, sustaining severe injuries himself. In the aftermath of the accident, as his body slowly heals, Ari wrestles with the meaning and consequences of his actions--what moved him to risk his life for Dante? How does saving a friend's life change the friendship? To answer his own questions, Ari must face the inevitability of growing from a boy to a man. Readers familiar with Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers (/Macmillan, 1983/VOYA October 1983) will find parallels in Sáenz's novel. Dante and Ari are similar to Barry and Hal, though without their reckless behavior and unhealthy obsessions. Ultimately, Sáenz has written the greater love story, for his is the story of loving one's self, of love between parents and children, and of the love that builds communities, in addition to the deepening love between two friends.--Joanna Lima Secret Agent Jack Stalwart. Weinstein Books, 2011. $5.99 Trade pb. 3Q 4P Hunt, Elizabeth Singer. The Hunt for the Yeti Skull, Book 13: Nepal. 128p. ISBN 978-1602861510. __________. The Mission to Find Max, Book 14: Egypt. 144p. ISBN 978-1602861527.The adventure novel series that has taken nine-year-old secret agent Jack Stalwart around the world is drawing to a close. Books thirteen and fourteen, the final two in the series, take Jack to Nepal on a search for a Yeti skull, and then to Egypt to find King Tut's diadem. While in Egypt Jack also resolves the series' overarching quest: to find Jack's brother and fellow secret agent, eleven-year-old Max. As in the rest of the series, the final two books begin with sixteen pages of paratextual information from common phrases, facts about and maps of the region in which Jack's adventure is set to background information about the force in which Jack is a secret agent, his family members, and the gadgets he uses to succeed in his missions. The series concludes with Max back at home, and Jack taking a break from being a secret agent Each book in the series is a quick read with plenty of action and, most importantly, lots of information about history and activities, like ancient Egypt or rock climbing, as well as basic facts about the various settings in which Jack finds himself. Nonetheless, the educational purpose of the books does not take too much away from Jack's adventures. Clearly directed at a young male audience, the series does have some strong female characters, though their talents and strength always seem to surprise Jack. Best of all, throughout the series, the young characters come out on top, which is always fun to read.--Dr. Jennifer M. Miskec 5Q 3P J S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.