This book is amazing. I had never heard of it, but a couple of my friends read it for their book club and were raving about it, which of course piqued my interest. I am so glad I read this book.
It sounds obvious to say that a YA book is about growing up, but that’s essentially what this book is. Aristotle (who goes by Ari) and Dante are two Mexican-American teenagers growing up in Texas. Whenever Ari (the narrator) is impressed with the behavior or insights of another person or animal, he thinks maybe they’ve discovered the secrets of the universe. When he says that he means the meaning of life or the way the world works, and of course that’s what all teenagers are trying to discover: hence the title.
Ari is having a particularly hard time growing up. He thinks there’s something wrong with him, but there isn’t. He’s just a teenager. Growing up can be painful and confusing for all of us, and at one time or another, we all do things we can’t explain. Sometimes that drives the people around us crazy. Other times it’s the people around us to let us know why we do what we do.
Dante is in love with Ari. He comes right out with it and he makes no bones about it. He has no secrets (at least not from Ari) and he doesn’t want to.
Ari has a really big secret. He’s in love with Dante. Ari is the only one who doesn’t know this secret. There are enough clues that the reader should be able to figure it out right away. Ari’s parents figure it out. I’m pretty sure Dante and his parents figure it out. But Ari remains confused and angry until his parents finally sit him down and explain one of the secrets of the universe. They explain Ari’s actions in terms that are so plain and simple, even the determinedly thick-skulled Ari can’t avoid it anymore.
So he stops avoiding it. He discovers the most important secret of the universe, and it is so beautiful.
Of course there are other stops along the way. There are attempts at dating girls and making friends. Experimenting with drugs and learning to drive (not at the same time). Getting jobs and dealing with the death of a family member. In short, all of the things that go along with growing up. Benjamin Alire Sáenz manages to fit pretty much the entire experience of growing up into a mere 360 pages and just a little over a year of the boys’ lives and it’s fantastic.
Have you read any good YA books lately? Tell me about them.