We chose to read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (AADDTSOTU) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz for our fourth LGBTQ+ book club read. Both me and Sarah love this book and (I’ll be honest) with YALC coming up we wanted a familiar one to read so it was easier for our massive TBR piles. Also, many of the people who attend hadn’t read it and since it is one of my all time favourite books, I wanted to spread the brilliance of it. Sarah couldn’t make this month’s meet up as she was away with her partner so I led this one solo which I was kind of nervous about and missed Sarah a lot but it went really well! In case you don’t know what the book is about, AADDTSOTU follows protagonist Ari, a 15 year old boy who is struggling with various aspects of his life. It is set in 1980s America. Both Ari and Dante come from Mexican families, which is another important part of their identity explored in this book as well as their feelings for each other. It is a very introspective novel and the reader finds out a lot about how Ari deals with his confusion over his identity and himself, and how he copes with frustration towards his family and the lack of transparency they give him about his brother.
I adore this book – I love the representation and the friendship between Ari and Dante is beautifully written. Every single character is three dimensional and has been written for a specific purpose. The writing is wonderful, the characters are wonderful; the whole book is wonderful! I think a massive strength of this story is the relationships between all the characters. The familial relationships feel so real and are so complex that it’s hard not to relate in any way, even if you have a completely different family dynamic and background.
The lowest rating from someone in book club was 4 stars, which I think speaks a lot for the book. The others were all 5 stars. Most of the group said it was how relatable the story was which stuck with them. A lot of people identified with Ari in different ways. For myself and a couple of other people, we related to the kind of repressed denial Ari is in about his sexuality. Though he doesn’t really discuss his own sexuality at all, it is relevant towards the end of the book. The way Ari struggles with his feelings and adolescence is something else a lot of us related to.
Another realistic aspect that someone brought up was that even though the book has a happy ending, all of Ari’s problems – and Dante’s too for that matter – aren’t resolved. Yes, the ending leaves you smiling and content but you also know that they both have a long way to go in terms of figuring themselves out and they haven’f found all the answers in each other. I think this is so appreciated because a lot of books, YA specifically, tend to have all issues solved when a character falls in love or gets into a relationship and that is very unrealistic and a bit one dimensional too. Ari and his family have a long way to go to heal and I think that is amazingly well portrayed. Though they are communicating better at the end of the book than they were at the beginning, it isn’t magically all fixed.
Our next book club pick is Skylarks by Karen Gregory! Neither of us have read this book before and the author is going to YALC (wow those ulterior motives to help us prepare for YALC!). Our next meeting is a week later next month so it will be on the 12th of July in Chapter One Books, Manchester. Come and join us if you can!