Every year in January, my students and I watch the American Library Youth Media Awards live webcast in our school library. We mainly are interested in hearing the announcement of the Newbery Medal winner and honor books, but other awards are announced as well.
This year, one title kept coming up again and again. First, "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" was announced as the Stonewall Award winner. Then it was named a Michael L. Prinz Honor Book. It also was given the Pura Bel Pre Award. I knew I had to read this book, and I finally picked up a copy recently. I read it in fewer than 24 hours!
When Ari meets Dante, the two boys seem like complete opposites. But as they get to know one another, they discover they are more alike than they realized.
Dante is self-confident and loves poetry and literature. Ari is more interested in discovering why no one in his family will discuss his much older brother and why he is in prison. Ari has basically been a loner until the time he meets Dante. But something about Dante opens up Ari to the possibility of a friendship that will change his life.
Why was this book so compelling? Perhaps it is because the story of two 15-year-old friends like Aristotle and Dante, struggling to discover who they are and who they want to become, is so universal. Perhaps it is because author Benjamin Saenz doesn't waste words but cuts right to the truth. Or maybe it is the fact that although these teens are part of Mexican-American culture, the support of family and bonds of love are part of nearly everyone's experience.
This isn't a book for middle school students, in my opinion, but it has moved to the top of my list for every reader who is high school age and beyond.