CBR9 #2: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotle-and-danteFew things are as satisfying as starting a book and realizing you’re going to sit there and read it straight through.  It is such a wonderful moment where you know this is your life’s purpose for the next few hours and you can measure your next bit of existing by the number of pages the author has handed to you.  It didn’t take me long to know I’d be with Aristotle and Dante and Sáenz until the last word.

Ari is 15.  He’s bored and miserable.  He can’t figure himself out or anyone else.  He can throw a punch, so everyone leaves him alone, and this makes him happy.  He doesn’t understand how people interact with each other.  What they talk about.  How they’re supposed to feel.  So he hopes things will change but you can tell he doesn’t really even know what that would mean either.

Happily he has a great relationship with his mom.  She worries about him, but there’s lots of love there.  Several times during this book I wondered what Ari’s life would be if he didn’t have her.  His dad?  That one is confusing.  He’s back from Vietnam, but he’s not really back.  He and Ari try, but for Ari, it’s easier to avoid and wonder why his mom fell in love with the guy in the first place.

Ari is waiting for things to change.  For summer to end.  For it not to be so hot.

And then he meets Dante and… Ari doesn’t know what’s happening.  Are things changing?  Is this how you act when you have a friend?

Dante is different from anyone Ari has ever met.  He gets excited about things.  He wants to talk about everything.  He shares his thoughts and ideas and experiences.  He wants Ari to do the same.

Ari doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t want to share.  He’s worried that he doesn’t have anything to share.  Maybe he’s so entirely different that if he did share, Dante would realize there is something wrong with him and decide he didn’t want to hang around.

But that doesn’t happen.  Suddenly Ari is laughing all the time.  He’s reading books he didn’t know about.  He’s thinking more about who he is and why he acts the way he does.  He doesn’t like that part so much.

He wants to know the secrets in his family.  Dante is always asking questions, but Ari stopped asking long ago.

And then he finds out Dante is leaving at the end of the summer.  Ari doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel.  How to react.  He’s sad and excited for Dante.  Jealous.  Relieved.  He doesn’t know how to be a friend.  He won’t have to answer questions.

And after the accident happens, he won’t have to see Dante cry.

School starts.  There are letters.  Ari wants to go back to who he was, but he didn’t know who he was before Dante and he doesn’t know who he is now.

More time passes.  More confusion.  Anger.  Relief.

And then Dante is back.

***

Oh, this book.  Ari is a complicated and carefully written character.  The way he questions everything without wanting to think is both confusing and true.  Sáenz has created a strict set of rules for Ari and does not break them.  There’s sadness and sometimes you see hope.  Ari is afraid of hope.  He’s afraid of Dante.  Of not being friends with Dante.  Of not knowing how to be a friend or how to talk to people.  Of being normal.  Of not being normal.

Dante on the other hand?  Pure and open and honest.  Sure, he has a few things he keeps to himself, but other than that?  If he thinks it, he says it.  His questions don’t stay locked up.  He wants to know favorite colors and deepest fears.  Ari is a puzzle.  Ari is a friend and Dante wants Ari to be open and honest.  Dante has the social constructs down for friendship, but Ari is hesitant because he knows some questions aren’t supposed to be asked.

The parents in this book are so awesome.  Mistakes are made, but there is so much love there.  Knowing Ari and Dante had their parents before they had each other is comforting.

Watching Ari navigate and distrust friendship spins perfectly around the secrets in his own family.  How can you be a friend if you don’t know what happened when you were too little to remember?  How can you be open and trusting when your mom shuts down when your brother’s name is mentioned?  Who is your dad and why do you only get to see parts of him?

Everything about this book… struggles of growing up, coming of age, anger, first kisses, school, fights, family, pure confusion and terror of being a teen.  Sáenz is gifted.  He created a world and made me care about everyone.

I’m really curious about what’s in store for Ari and Dante in There Will Be Other Summers.

M

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