A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 2013 Printz Honor Book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an introspective coming-of-age story about two Mexican-American boys growing up in El Paso, Texas, in 1987. It brings up questions of identity, particularly in terms of sexuality and sexual orientation. Each boy experiments with kissing a girl; one also does so with a boy. They also try weed and drink beer. Dante gets jumped by a group of boys, and Ari (short for Aristotle) punches a boy, breaking his nose. And Ari tries out a few curse words to see how his mom reacts. But the book's real focus is friendship and how the perspective and love of a good friend can make you look at yourself differently and motivate you to change for the better.
This book... it is beautiful... my tiny mind cannot comprehend so much beauty... what is happening to me...
What's the story?
At age 15, Ari is a loner who has never had a friend before -- until he meets Dante at the swimming pool. When Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, the boys discover they make each other laugh, which seems more important than the fact that they have little in common other than that they're both Mexican American and live in El Paso. Dante's love of books and art, as well as his open appreciation of his parents, makes Ari look at his own family differently and inspires him to try to uncover the mystery of his dad, who rarely speaks. Over two summers and the intervening school year, the boys share laughs, secrets, and philosophies. As Aristotle tries to figure out his role in the universe, the importance of Dante's friendship both bothers him and keeps him going -- and, ultimately, changes the course of his life.
Is it any good?
The distinctive first-person voice of Aristotle, both straightforward and poetic, perfectly captures the uncertainties of a teen boy who has long held himself aloof but might want to change that. Ari's frequent melancholy is balanced with a self-deprecating sense of humor and sharp observations, making him sympathetic and likable.
Although there are some exciting scenes, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE focuses more on internal than external action. Because of this, the novel may not be for everyone; the more literary reader, however, will find Aristotle's journey into adulthood and self-acceptance engaging and moving.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Ari found it so hard to talk to his dad. Why do you think that changed?
How does the book address the issues of sexuality/sexual orientation? Teens: How would you feel if your best friend told you he or she was gay?
Ari's parents don't let him watch television in the daytime during the summer (the book takes place in 1987, so there are no cell phones, iPods, etc.). Teens: What would you do with your time if your parents didn't allow you to use any electronics during the summer?
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