Aristotle and Dante Discovers the Secrets of the Universe

Rating: 
Author: Benjamin Alire Sàenz
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Feb. 2012 (read Apr. 2018)

Yay! I loved this!

I’ve been having a lot of success with YA lately. For awhile I thought I’d maybe finally outgrown the genre, but there’s still some really great contemporaries out there! This was the second book in my monthly challenge to read 3 award winning books. This was one of the soft spoken books that isn’t very plot driven, but develops some really beautiful characters.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is set in 1987 in El Paso, Texas. It’s summer and Ari, who has never been very good at making friends, is trying to pass away the time on his own when he meets Dante at the local pool. Dante seems to get a long with everyone and is well liked, but he’s never really been great at having friends either and the two boys strike up a friendship. Ari struggles to connect with people and is frustrated by his parents refusal to talk about his older brother who has been in prison for most of his life. Dante has a close relationship with his parents, but he struggles with his identity – who he is, what he loves, and what it means to be Mexican.

Like I said, it’s not a plot driven novel, although it does have some shocking plot elements that push the story forward. But ultimately it’s a coming of age story about friends, family, and identity. I love YA books that have a strong family element, especially one that built around understanding and love, rather than conflict and rebellion, which I’d say is probably more popular in YA. I love Ari and Dante’s parents in this book and the relationships that they all built with one another, how they developed and grew over the course of the book. In some ways it felt like a slow-build kind of book, but at the same time I found it hard to put down.

I don’t want to give any of the story away, I think it’s a good book to go into blind. I did and I really enjoyed the experience.

Love, Hate & Other Filters

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult
Pub Date: Jan. 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

This was disappointing. I picked this from my library’s limited selection of audiobooks because I’ve been having a lot of success with Young Adult audiobook’s lately and I’ve been seeing some buzz about it.

To be honest, I didn’t even look at the synopsis, I just new it was about an Indian teenager who was into film. I didn’t like the Maya’s voice from the beginning and I found her such a whiny narrator to listen to. When I hit the 20% mark and this book was still just a surface level romance novel, I debated DNFing and went back to look at the synopsis. When I realized the main premise of this book was actually supposed to be about a terrorist attack and the struggles many Muslim people suffer to be accepted after any terrorist attack, I decided to stick it out.

I appreciate what Samira Ahmed was trying to do with this book. She addressed several different themes: the struggle of Indian daughters to breakaway from their parents expectations, the struggle of any teenager to pursue a career in something as unstable as the film industry, and the xenophobia and hate against Muslims and those who are “othered” in the United States. These are all great themes and I was interested in exploring the different ways people react in the aftermath of a tragedy and how some people let their hate overcome them, while others fight for those who are marginalized. But I thought the execution in this book was terrible.

Honestly, this was a romance novel with a brief look at some of the themes I’ve discussed above. It didn’t explore any of these themes in any great depth and I thought all of the characters emotions were very surface level. This book had more unyielding parents (I’ve read a lot of books of this nature lately), but the drama felt really forced and not authentic. In theory I understood that Maya’s parents were trying to protect their daughter in a world that is not very kind, but no one used any reason in this book (Maya included), except for her Aunt, and everyone felt extremely 1-dimensional. The main story was ultimately a romance and it wasn’t a very well written one. It was so cliche and I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes through the entire thing. This book just had so much more potential, but it got bogged down with a heavy romance and the author barely explored any of the complex themes she introduced into the story.

Even though this tacked something I haven’t seen addressed much in literature, I would not recommend this book. It was too poorly written and executed. Pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterThe Nowhere Girls, or The Poet X instead.

The Nowhere Girls

Rating: 
Author: Amy Reed
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Apr. 2018 as audiobook)

Why aren’t more people talking about this book?!! This was so fantastic and such a great example of how much impact a YA novel can have!

I am on fire with reading audiobooks lately. I get one audiobook a month on audible and I had a huge backlog because I hadn’t used it at all since November, but this was my 4th audiobook in the last month and I’ve finally run out of credits and will have to go back to the library’s crappy audiobook selection now. I may have to buy a hard copy of this book too because the writing was just too good and sometimes I miss things on audiobook, so I’d really love to give this another read. (the audiobook narrator is still great though!)

The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 girls in high school: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. Grace is a self-identified, christian, fat girl who just moved to Oregon from the South because her mother, who is a pastor, was too progressive for their mega-church. Rosina is a gay, mexican girl who constantly fights with her mother over the excessive amount of responsibility she feels is placed on her and wonders if she’ll ever have a loving girlfriend. Erin has Asperger’s and struggles to make friends and relate with people. Her family moved to Prescott 2 years ago after an incident that happened to Erin and now her father is never home and her mother is overly obsessed with Erin’s health.

Erin and Rosina are each other’s only friends and they welcome Grace into their group when she starts at school. When Grace finds upsetting messages written on the walls of her bedroom, she discovers that her new home used to belong to a girl named Amy who claimed to have been gang raped at a party the year before. No one believed her and she was essentially forced out of town. Grace is upset by the cries for help etched into her wall and asks Erin and Rosina for more information on how this could possibly have happened and whether there’s anything they can do about it. They are apathetic at first, but eventually, the Nowhere Girls are born, a group for girls who want to talk about the unfairness of the world and the expectations that are placed on them as women, and do something to change it.

I’ve seen some comparisons of this book to Moxie, which I also read last year. Both books were published last year and a focus on combating rape culture and empowering girls. Moxie seems to have gotten most of the buzz, which is a shame because, while I liked Moxie, I thought this was a much stronger book. This is an exploration of rape culture, identity, diversity, and inclusion. Moxie was a great book too, but is a more white-feminist exploration of sexism and rape culture, this felt way more gritty and intersectional. There were some actions that the nowhere girls took that I kind of questioned (the sex strike), but Reed has her characters question those actions too and I liked the journey her characters took in trying to navigate the complicated world of gender politics. She did briefly feature one black girl who felt the Nowhere Girls was a group for white girls, and I wish she’d explored this angle a little bit more, but still a fantastic and thought provoking novel overall.

Amy Reed explored a lot of aspects of rape culture in this novel from a lot of different perspectives. I liked that she didn’t just focus on Grace, Rosina, and Erin, but that she also linked in a lot of side characters with little snippets from their perspectives. But I still thought all 3 of the main perspectives were very strong. I really appreciated that Reed included a christian perspective outside of the context of a christian novel. I can’t actually think of many examples of religious exploration in YA novels outside of specific christian fiction, which is often preachy and not that relatable. I liked that Grace and her family were down to earth and that they were able to find a way in which their faith and liberal mindsets didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I liked that Reed acknowledged that it’s both okay to want to wait until marriage to have sex and to have no desire to wait. That saying yes is just as important as saying no.

I thought Erin’s character was really well done as well, although I’d be interested to hear from someone with Asperger’s if this was an accurate portrayal. I liked Rosina a lot too, but I struggled to understand her mom. This is the 3rd book I’ve read lately about a Mexican family and they all had similar themes of familiar conflict, but I thought Rosina’s mother had almost no humanity. I know she was frustrated with Rosina, but come on, Rosina is a teenager, she’s obviously going to act out and it didn’t really seem like her mom really cared about her all.

But these are small complains because I really did love this book. It represented so many different experiences, while also being really well written. I read The Authentics earlier this month and complained that it was just too feel good and the conflict lacked depth. The Nowhere Girls is the complete opposite of that and the reason I think YA books shouldn’t be afraid to really go there. Teenagers are complex and emotional people and authors shouldn’t be afraid to challenge their thinking. I would recommend this book to any teenager and any adult because it has some great discussions about rape culture and it will make you mad!

The Authentics

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Narrator: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Aug. 2017 (Read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I am tearing it up with audiobooks this month! Granted this one was half the length of the audiobooks I usually listen to, but still.

I admit, after listening to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I totally did a search on the narrator Kyla Garcia and found that she’d narrated another book on my TBR, which is the main reason why I decided to read The Authentics. Garcia did a fantastic job narrating this book as well, but sadly this was not on the same level as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

This is young adult literature that definitely reads like young adult. I usually don’t have any trouble reading YA because there are some really great YA authors out there who tells stories that have a lot of depth and themes that are applicable to everyone, not just teenagers. This book definitely still had themes that anyone could enjoy, but the story felt pretty juvenille. It actually has a pretty surprising twist early in the novel that I would have been completely pissed about if I was Daria, but in my opinion this book was missing the emotion. It lacked tension and grit and I feel like the author was afraid to go there and instead wrote more of a “feel-good” family novel. There’s nothing wrong with “feel-good”, but I thought this story had a lot of potential and it just lacked impact and execution.

Daria is a 15 year old Iranian-American teenager. She was born in America and has never been to Iran, but she is very proud of her culture and her and her friends, who come from very diverse backgrounds, do their best to always “be authentic”. This all changes when their English teacher challenges them to do a presentation about their heritage and Daria learns something shocking about her family’s past. Daria begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her parents and finds it increasingly difficult to be authentic.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the story. There’s several different plots throughout the novel between Daria’s feud with her former best friend, her conflict with her family, and a new love interest, but I thought they were all mediocre and pretty surface level. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I like to give teenagers a bit more credit than I think the author does in this book. Everything about Daria’s fight with Heidi felt childish and the romantic relationship made me cringe. Teenagers have more depth than this and the whole thing just felt lacking.

That said, I really did enjoy the opportunity to read about Iranian culture and I do believe that diverse stories like this need to be told and are incredibly important. I just really wanted more from this. It may be unfair to keep comparing it to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but it’s hard not to when they deal with a lot of similar themes (the daughter that can’t live up to their immigrant mother’s expectations) and the latter was so much better written and had so much more depth.