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

Simon & Schuster | Hardcover, 359 pages
Young Adult | LGBT Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

“Something happened inside me as I looked out into the vast universe. Through that telescope, the world was closer and larger than I’d ever imagined. And it was all so beautiful and overwhelming and – I don’t know – it made me aware that there was something inside of me that mattered.” – Chapter 10, page 42

At a tender age of fourteen, Aristotle would set out his path to discover the secrets of his universe. He has questions he wants answered. He wants to know why his parents insist on erasing his brother’s presence in their lives when he’s still alive. He wants to know why he much preferred the company of his thoughts than actual people. He wants to know why Dante could be so full of curious energy and wonder when his endless questions seem to tire him out. Most of all, he wants to know why he’s so angry.

Meeting Dante might just be the catalyst that would take him on a journey to discover the secrets that have plagued him at such a young age. But it’s not going to be without trials.

What is not to love about this book? Captivating characters, engrossing tale of family, friendship and love. It is every bit as beautiful, tender, and fiercely honest. Some books are truly intimidating to review, and for all its accolades and acclaims, Aristotle and Dante has left me floundering for words. At the same time, it’s that type of book where you want to do everything you could to proclaim its greatness. I just want to shove this book to everyone I know because reading it is such an experience. Depending on what you take away from it, the book would make you feel like your heart was fuller than when you started reading.

The most unforgettable relationships are those forged in friendship first; Ari and Dante truly had that. While Dante was not very shy in admitting he liked kissing boys over girls, Ari didn’t really  come right out and say it. In fact, his parents sort of forced him out of the closet. Truth is, I was a little jarred by this. I’ve never heard of parents telling their son he’s gay instead of the son telling them he’s gay. In that sense, I thought it was a bit of a reach. But then again, if anybody knows Ari, it’s his parents. Ari has done a couple of pretty heroic stuff for Dante, so I guess I can understand why they thought Ari’s love for Dante is more than brotherly.

And yeah, you’re not going to cry. Your eyes will remain generally dry, but oh my goodness. Ari and Dante will make you feel like you have the fattest heart in the entire universe. The writing! As a fledgling poet, Benjamin incites jealousy of words; beautifully poetic, wonderfully hypnotic. There is a lyrical quality that makes me feel like I can hear a hymn as I read. But it’s so gentle, and not too obvious. You’ll have to sit there and savour its taste in your tongue.


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Freak Boy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Farrar Straus Giroux | ARC, 426 pages
October 22nd, 2013
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is a free verse novel about the startling reality of a boy who found himself lost inside his own body. Brendan Chase has a girlfriend, a star wrestler, and a teenager normal enough to heed the call of his rioting hormones. But nobody else knows the war his mind wages against his body. His fascination with the woman’s anatomy altered from  curiosity to abject desire; a desire that had little to do with sex and more to do with the allure of having softer body, a curvier silhouette, and hair that falls like a curtain of silk. It’s not about an excuse to wear dresses; it’s about finally being comfortable in his own skin. Much like any coming of age novels, Freakboy shows the painful reality that sometimes, accepting one’s self could mean pitiable isolation.

On the periphery is his girlfriend Vanessa. She’d unconscionably given up her friends for Brendan, so when he gets into his moods, she feels isolated. But maybe if they have sex, they’ll bridge the gap that starting to widen as his depression gets worse and rampant? She doesn’t know his state of mind; he doesn’t share, and she’s afraid that when she finally gives it up, Brendan will lose his interest altogether.

Then there’s Angel; a transsexual who believes that no matter how difficult life was for her, she’s still lucky. She believes in paying it forward. So when she sees Brendan and saw the tell-tale signs of a boy on the wayward path, she offered what no one would at the time when she was headed in the same direction: friendship and understanding.

I’ve read many LGB books in my short life, but never books about T. Freakboy gave me an insight as to how much harder it is when you wake up every morning feeling like you want to peel the skin off of your own body to reveal who you exactly are. Brendan’s desperation to find himself was made palpable by Clark’s stark prose. It’s a pain in his chest that claws at the reader rather emphatically.

“Far beyond
feeling mean
at the thought
of making them guess
all I feel
is a forever
dull ache
that will
for as
long as
I do.”

You can feel the loneliness, and the abject terror that he’ll never figure out where he belongs. Unlucky for Vanessa, she got caught in a chaos of Brendan’s soul searching. While I didn’t agree with the way he strung her along, I can’t say that I would’ve done it any other way. The truth is, how do you tell your girlfriend you wanted to be a girl? Especially after you had sex with her? It was inevitable heartache all around.

All in all, I wished for a better ending. As much as I love the ambiguity of it all, I feel, it just wasn’t enough. This novel is relevant, and provocative. It offers hope that no matter how desperate you may think your situation is, somewhere out there, someone has it worse than you. But most importantly, you are only alone if you chose to be alone.

This post is my contribution to the LGBT Month LitFest hosted by Cayce of Fighting Dreamer and Laura of Laura Plus Books.


 Also, a big thank you to Miss Wendy of Midnight Garden for this copy.

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Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Candlewick Press
Format: ARC, 341 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.
Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

The Gist: Matt is a mess; between dealing with the grief of losing his brother, TJ to the on-going difficulty of living with his father, some days, Matt can no longer tell which way is up. Added to that emotional upheaval and turmoil is a burgeoning relationship with his best friend that Matt could no longer ignore. Seven months after burying what was left of his brother, he’s overwhelmed by anger and loneliness seemingly beyond relief.

When his brother’s footlockers showed up, it felt like he was losing his brother all over again. Opening the locks was like opening up a side of him that he never knew. The discovery that he didn’t really know him was like salt to his already festering wounds. Betrayed and angry, Matt set out on a journey that began with love letters exchanged between his brother and a person Matt never knew. What he discovered would be a catalyst to the changes he needed to do in order to honour the memory of a fallen soldier and to help the family he left behind.

The Review:


This review will fail to convey how I felt after reading this book. I was destroyed; and much like Matt, I felt like I was grieving for the loss of a life cut short. But in my case, I’m grieving for the ending of this book. It was hard to put this down after it was over. I felt like I missed a whole lifetime – missed knowing a person because I read too fast.

TJ had so much to live for – so much to look forward to. Bound by the honour and obligation of serving his country, he chose to fulfill that responsibility rather than face the future with his loved ones. I mean, who could blame him? At the end of it all, he followed his heart. Unfortunately, that led him to being blown to bits. The ugly realities of war.

EM Kokie’s writing captured the heartbreak of grief, made even more powerful by Matt’s voice. His anger and sadness leapt off the pages and the betrayal that he felt with the things he found out about his brother. It was just…heartache all around. And even if the ending left a lot to be hopeful for, I wasn’t satisfied. I needed to read TJ’s story, need to feel what he felt when he realized he was in love. I needed to see the desperation every time he had to leave that person. A soldier’s life is not easy, it’s lonely and ripe with peril.

Ultimately though, Curtis is the one who cut me to pieces. I don’t think I could ever recover from his heartache. He’s one of those characters who’d lodge right into your heart like a splinter; buried deep that all you’d feel is the constant ache. I think this is the first time that I’ve been so affected by a secondary character. But I can’t help it. He’s the one I can’t forget from this book. I don’t know why I felt so much for Curtis. In a way, he’s like a close relative who’s suffering deeply and you want to help him but you don’t know how. But he’s very good at hiding his emotions – he looks strong from the outside but you’re almost sure he’s a mess inside. I want to wish him well, want him to feel happy again but it seems impossible somehow.

VERDICT: EM Kokie’s debut novel was a mine of explosive, emotional, heart wrenching drama. This book will stay with me for a long time and it’s not only because it dealt with the difficulty of grief, it’s mostly because her characters are unforgettable. She gave a voice to a boy who had to fight for every single breath, every single will to go on living when he felt the severity of wanting to give up. This author is unreal, considering she’s a newbie. I’ve never had a book affect me so deeply and in a level of empathy even I, could never understand.

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