Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

3 words: smart, thoughtful, emotional

Anyone else ever save a book you know you’re gonna love? And then read it as a treat?

This is one of those.

I’d heard rave reviews, and I knew the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook, and I’m happy reading realistic teen fiction (as long as it doesn’t involve death), so I was pretty sure I was gonna love this book.

And I did.

Even if there hadn’t been the subtle, heartfelt narration by Miranda, this book’s sweetness and intelligence would’ve been evident on the page.

Ari is a teenage boy who’s never had a close friend until he meets Dante. The story of their unfolding friendship is charming, and so are the close relationships they have with their parents.

They’re teenage boys who don’t fit in with others, but isn’t that the way all teenagers feel? So there’s some serious universal understanding right there. I recognize these characters.

Ari’s first-person narration puts us right there with him, and he’s a fascinating person to hang out with and his voice is true.

I’m tempted to say that this book is emotionally honest, but it’s interesting: Ari is in complete emotional denial about aspects of himself. But the book itself is honest and wise. And eventually Ari gets there, too.

Give this book a whirl if you like… LGBTQ stories, coming of age, endearing teens, stories about friendship, Mexican American family stories, teen angst, and family secrets

What’s the best teen novel you’ve read lately?

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

3 words: poignant, romantic, painfully humorous

You know how we all want to forget those painfully awkward teenage years? (At least I sure do.)
Well, this book puts you right back into that frame of mind, but in the best way possible.
Rainbow Rowell is seriously skilled at making a reader care about her characters, and she’s also really good at remembering and evoking the feelings of being a teenager. And she’s smart and funny, and so are her characters.

The only thing that almost made me want to stop reading this book is that Eleanor’s home life is so freakin’ horrible, I almost couldn’t stand it. But I wanted so much to stay with her through her story that I stuck it out, and later I couldn’t believe I almost had to quit reading.

(But truly: her home life is horrible.

And I was reading this book at the same time as Hillbilly Elegy. And there were times when I had to remind myself which person’s horrible home life–with a mom making terrible life choices that had severe consequences for her children–was which.)

Eleanor and Park is a love story, but a quirky one. Both Eleanor and Park feel like misfits, and when they’re thrown together as seatmates on the school bus, they don’t like each other at first. But then they bond over graphic novels and music, and they gradually become friends and then they realize they love each other.

So yes, this is a book a about teen romance, but it’s smarter and sharper and savvier than you’d expect.

I found myself recommending this book to lots of friends — to anyone who even might consider reading a YA book, and to some who aren’t usually so inclined.

What’s the best YA book you’ve read lately?

Castle charm. Yep, more of it.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
3 words:
charming, genteel, youthful
When I
heard Nancy Pearl (she of the librarian action figure) say that this book was
perhaps even better than I Capture the
, I was intrigued. And skeptical.
But I
see what she means.
While my
heart still belongs to the Castle,
this book offers some serious competition.
And also
some serious homage (the kinder word for “imitation”).
first, I was concerned that this story of a genteel family, fallen on hard
times yet living in a castle, was so similar to Castle that it wouldn’t work for me. There was even the
children’s/YA trope of the young protaganists taking charge of the action
because the adults are incapacitated (also true in Castle). And it, too, was set in the 1930s.
But this
book, while similarly sweet throughout the initial chapters, departs from its
predecessor in a few ways.
actual royalty. In this book, the lead characters—two teenage girls—are
princesses reigning over a tiny island kingdom off the coast of Europe. Quite
Nazi menace. There are serious political maneuverings in this book, and there
are serious bad guys. So the shadows are much deeper than I would’ve expected.
All in
all, there’s some good storytelling here, and some characters worth caring
This is
the first in a trilogy, and I just might try the others…

I finally read it

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
words: compassionate, lyrical, wry  
the hype? Yes.
So… Death
as the narrator. I know. But if you can get through the first chapter and meet
the characters he describes (I think Death
is a “he;” at least the audiobook narrator was), you just might get hooked on
the book as fast as I did.
thing is: to describe The Book Thief
makes it sound sad and depressing. Which it is, yet really isn’t. It has too
many moments of light and goodness amidst the difficulties.
Germany, WWII is raging, and Liesel is only 9 when she’s orphaned. Her new
foster parents are a study in contrasts: Rosa is foul-mouthed and harsh (yet a
good woman in a crisis), and Hans is notable for “the brute strength of the
man’s gentleness.” (CD 1, track 13)
then their small household grows in population when Max Vandenburg joins them.
But his presence must remain a secret, because he’s Jewish.
Death tells the story, a person is rather on edge throughout the entire novel. Who’s he coming for? But then Death
becomes rather likeable himself, and that’s even more unnerving. He’s a darn
credible narrator, and he doesn’t sugar-coat things.
audiobook is a remarkable thing. Death’s voice is calm, cynical, wry,
occasionally kindhearted.
has an extraordinarily strong ability to draw memorable characters. The good
ones have flaws that make them real, and they all have quirks that make them
believable. I won’t soon forget them.  

Banned book!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
by Sherman Alexie
My book club is way
ahead of things. We’re celebrating Banned Books Week in August. (It’s really in September, but we’re overachieving noncomformists.)
Yeah, this is the
book that keeps getting challenged/banned. And yeah, it’s by the same guy who
wrote the Smoke Signals screenplay.

So I picked this puppy for our book club. And while sitting at the salon with foil on my head,
I got completely sucked in.

As often happens,
the thing that got me was the voice. This story is told by a boy named Junior
(on the rez) or Arnold (off the rez), who’s in the middle of one of those high
school existential crises. Thing is, his is for real.

Junior’s grown up
on the reservation all his life, and then he decides to attend high school off
the rez. Which results in further bloodshed (but maybe not more than he
suffered already), the loss of his best friend, and some serious basketball
drama on the court. And Junior, an underdog if ever I saw one, turns into way
more of a hero than anyone ever expected.

He tells his story
in an easy, self-deprecating way, and his compulsion to draw cartoons results
in a delightfully illustrated book.

And the guy has
plenty to overcome—all kinds of medical problems earlier in life, poverty, an
alcoholic father, a runaway sister, deaths of loved ones. And still he manages to hang in
there and keep a sense of humor. So in spite of all that nasty drama, I wanted to stay there with this guy because I liked hanging out with him. 

And he often does inappropriate laughing, and
you gotta love that. (I’m right there with him on that one.)

So all that banning?
It’s because there’s talk of masturbation in the book. That’s all. The other stuff
in the story is so much more significant that it seems strange to me that
someone would keep this book away from the readers who are its intended
audience. Of course, banning always seems strange to me. Seriously, people:
free country, anyone?

If I hadn’t picked
this book for book club, I’d be thanking the person who had. Junior’s a pretty
darn delightful young guy, and he makes a person want to be as tough as he is.
Not too shabby an endorsement for a teen novel, eh? 

Nerds of the world: Unite!

Into the Wild Nerd
Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side
Julie Halpern
A friend who’s a middle school librarian told me about this book,
and I’m so glad she did.
It’s the story of a girl who falls from Popularhood to Geekdom.
(Hello, and welcome to my world!*)
Jessie’s a high school sophomore, and she’s always hung out with a
couple of friends who are on the verge of being popular. And now, it’s all
going to crap. Her best friend has stolen the boy Jessie’s got a wild crush on,
and both of her friends have gone punk.
Meanwhile, here’s Jessie: “It’s funny how some of Barrett’s
friends think I’m his punky kid sister, when really I’m just some mathlete
who’d rather be sewing Thanksgiving skirts in her bedroom while listening to an
audiobook.” (p. 6)
Everyone out there, raise your hand if Jessie’s part of your
Yeah, she practically is me,
and also my friend who recommended the book. We used to spend weekend nights in
college watching movies in our dorm room and cross-stitching. Those were some crazy times!
(Really—could it get any better than that? I don’t think so,
Anyway, Jessie’s sewn a skirt for each day of the school year, and
she’s even planned some theme weeks: movie week, sports week, that kind of
thing. We’re talking novelty fabrics here.
So it’s really no wonder when she falls in with a new crowd that
lives on D&D and Renaissance-Fair-esque events. They are her people. And
there’s even a cute boy in that “nerd herd” (as Jessie’s brother so sweetly
terms them).
Meanwhile, her old best friend is going way too far with Jessie’s
old crush; Jessie’s brother has morphed from punk to preppy and gotten himself
a new girlfriend; and Jessie continues to earn non-stop A’s.
Jessie’s engagingly nerdy-yet-not, and her very believable
high-school-girl voice is darn charming.
Recommended for any former/current nerds. Highly recommended for any crafty
former/current nerds. This book’s about us, and that is a rare and lovely
* I planned to illustrate this post with a terrifyingly dorky
photo of myself at that age, but it appears that I successfully destroyed all
such evidence in my possession.