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.

April Reading Challenge

I am really late posting my April Reading Challenge, but I have been working on it!

March was probably my least successful reading challenge to date. I really liked The Thief, but I didn’t love either of the other books I read. I may have went too broad with the “read 3 fantasy books” idea, so I’ve decided to narrow it down a little more this month. My April Reading Challenge will be to:

Read 3 award-winning books

The three books I’ve chosen are:

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Aliré Saenz
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

My first book, The Underground Railroad, was published in 2016 and won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award for fiction. It was also one of Oprah’s book club reads and it won the Goodreads choice awards in historical fiction. The Underground Railroad looks at slavery in the early 1800’s, prior to the civil war, and re-imagines the underground railroad as an actual underground railroad, instead of just the network of secret routes and safe houses that it was in reality. It tells the story of Cora, a young girl who tries to escape the cotton plantation in the south where she’s spent her entire life.

The second book I selected was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I like including young adult books to capture a wide variety of experiences and this one has won a litany of awards. It won the Lambda Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, the Pura Belpré Narrative medal for Latino fiction, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honour and the Michael L. Printz Award honour. I don’t know a whole lot about the plot of this book, except that it focuses on the friendship that develops between two boys, Aristotle and Dante, and has LGBTQIA+ themes. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from vloggers I follow, so I’m excited to read it!

The last book on my list is Brown Girl Dreaming, which I bought a copy of a while ago and have been meaning to get to. I have no excuse as this is a middle grade novel written in prose, so I’m expecting it to a pretty quick read. Brown Girl Dreaming won the John Newberry Medal, the National Book Award for Young Adult Literature, and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature. It tells the story of a young girl growing up in the Jim Crow era in South Carolina.

I will admit that I’ve been working on The Underground Railroad for the last week and that I haven’t gotten very far because it has a pretty slow start, but it is finally starting to pick up and I am optimistic.

I am going to have to do some serious reading to fit these all in (plus my book club’s selection) over the next 2 weeks because I am going on vacation towards the end of April to Vietnam for 3 weeks! You likely won’t hear a lot from me during this time, but I’m really looking forward to doing some travel and I’m sure I’ll knock out a book or two on the planes, trains, and beach.

 

Now I Rise

Rating: ⭐
Author: Kiersten White
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Re-imagined History
Read: July 2017
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga (Book 2)

 

I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about this series when I read And I Darken, but after reading Now I Rise I am totally on the bandwagon!

This series is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I love historical fiction and I love fantasy – The Conqueror’s Saga is a perfect mix of both genres! I would call this re-imagined history, focused on Kiersten White’s re-imagining of history if Vlad the Impaler had been a woman and in love with Mehmed the Conqueror.

The series takes place in the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400’s when Lada and her younger brother Radu, heirs of Wallachia (part of Romania), are abandoned in the Ottoman courts and strike up a friendship with a young Mehmed. I won’t go into detail on the plot of And I Darken because it was a while since I read it, but Now I Rise follows Lada’s quest to take back the throne of Wallachia and Radu’s uncover spy mission into Constantinople during Mehmed’s attempt to take the city as one of his first accomplishments as the new sultan of the Ottoman empire.

I didn’t know much about the Ottoman Empire, so I found the historical aspects of this series fascinating. History remembers Vlad the Impaler as a villain, but to many Wallachian’s, he was a hero. Lada is completely ruthless and unforgiving, but you can’t help but love her as she does whatever it takes to restore Wallachia. She recognizes that she will always have to fight for power as a woman, but also acknowledges that the hardships she’s faced and the fact that she has to fight twice as hard as a woman is what gives her so much strength.

I liked how the series explores the different ways in which women could have power in the 1400’s and that power gained through marriage or children or even prostitution is still power and no less than that which is gained by traditional feats of strength or dominance. I love the scene where Lada is alone by the river, dealing with having her period, and is set upon by 3 men. She uses her femininity to her advantage and ultimately saves the lives of many of her men by doing so.

This series is dark and there is so much tension between the characters as they fight to gain power. The plot is strong, but the characters are really what really made this story wonderful. They are all so gritty and real. They do horrible things and make terrible choices and yet you understand their motivation and drive. I love the complicated relationship between Lada and Radu and felt such sympathy for Radu as he struggled with his feelings both for Lada and Mehmed. The secondary characters were all so wonderfully realized as well. Nazira is my hero and I loved Cyprian, Nicolae, and Hunyadi. I also enjoyed the exploration of religion in this book and Radu’s relationship with Islam.

Well done Kiersten White, can’t wait to read more!!

History is All You Left Me

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Adam Silvera
Genres: Young Adult
Read: Aug. 2017 on audiobook

 

History is All You Left Me has been getting a ton of great reviews, but I had a hard time getting into it.

This was my second audiobook, and while I definitely enjoyed it more than my first audiobook, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I still didn’t love it. However, my dislike for Beneath a Scarlet Sky had to do with the writing, while I fear my dislike of History is All You Left Me may have been because of the narrator. I really didn’t like the narrator for this audiobook. He was whiny and annoying to listen to and I felt like he didn’t get the tone of the book right. I almost want to read a hard copy to see how I interpret the tone, but I know I’ll never be able to sit through it again.

It’s definitely a sad book. Griffin is dealing with the loss of his best friend and first boyfriend Theo. He broke up with Theo prior to his death, but anticipated they would one day get back together and was still in love with him. In his grief, he turns to Theo’s new boyfriend Jackson for comfort, but forsakes his other friends who are also grieving for Theo.

I think this was a good book about love, loss, grief, and moving on. But it also had a side story about Griffin’s struggle with OCD that I couldn’t really get into. I’ve never had OCD, so I have no idea how well it was portrayed, but I felt Griffin’s struggle with OCD could have been a story on it’s own and I’m not sure it worked for me in this book. But maybe it’s inclusion meant a lot to readers with OCD, so I don’t want to dismiss it.

In the end I’m giving it 3 stars because I do think it was a decent book, but the narrator kind of ruined it for me, so I would definitely recommend reading over listening for this one.

Note: I moved this review over from my goodreads account. I have read several more audiobooks since I read this book and I’m finding that I don’t really like listening to fiction, so that may be a factor in my dislike of this book. I’ve switched to mostly listening to non-fiction and have found it a lot more enjoyable.