Monday, February 24, 2014

Book talk: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

"We all fight our own private wars." Ari -- real name Angel Aristotle Mendoza -- said this, and he's right. We all fight our own private wars. But what kind of a private war can a teenager fight? Ari is fighting his family, for one. His dad, a former Marine, was traumatized by something in the Vietnam war and is a complete mystery to Ari. Ari's brother is in jail, and there's no trace of him -- no pictures, no mementos, nothing -- of him in the house. Ari's siblings are much older than he is, and so he considers himself a "pseudo only child." A loner by nature, Ari is often uncomfortable or unhappy with himself, and his journals speak to this. Ari doesn't want your friendship, your help, or your opinion. He's more likely to get into a fight than seek out a friend.

That's why his only friend -- Dante Quintana -- sought him out. Dante noticed a clueless Ari trying to teach himself how to swim at the local pool and offered to teach him how. That's the only reason Ari can swim. Dante knows how to put up with Ari's moods, his sullen silences, and his negativity.

But back to Ari's private war. Ari admits he's always had bad dreams. He's never really felt at home in his own skin, and now that he's growing up, he feels as if he's inhabiting the body of a stranger. But a person at war with himself can still surprise himself and others, too. Ari did something so crazy and so heroic and so amazingly cool that he woke up in a hospital, with a lot of serious physical damage. But he's still at war with himself.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Printz Award, 2013. 359 p. 2012: Simon & Schuster. Booktalk to high school.

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