Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has been on my To Read list for a while. It got a bump after winning the Stonewall Book Award and getting a Printz Honor, but it didn’t get to the top of the list until my mother (who is a former English teacher now working in school libraries, so she has creds beyond being my wonderful Momma) told me, “Read it. It’ll make you joyful.”
Set in the late 1980s, Ari(stotle) and Dante meet at the swimming pool the summer between sophomore and junior year. Ari can’t swim, so Dante teaches him. This begins a friendship both boys desperately need though neither is completely willing to admit it. As they learn to trust each other and their friendship, Life throws all kinds of curve-balls their way–family secrets, death, hospitalizations, questions about sexuality, falling in love, etc.
Ari’s narration is painfully honest. Even though he is dealing with so much, his story never gets bogged down or melodramatic. Both boys are fully realized characters and both sets of parents are refreshingly complex.
This is a beautifully written story about love and friendship that did make me joyful, just like Momma said it would. But it’s a quiet kind of book. One that is so full of real–real life events, real characters, real dialogue–that its impact sneaks up on you. You cry, you laugh, and you feel joyful in the end because you know that even when things aren’t, everything is going to be alright.
Underage drinking, pot smoking, mild sexual situations, and some swears make this one for mature teens.