This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about Aristotle and Dante, two 15-year-old boys from El Paso, Texas, whose chance meeting turns into a life-changing friendship, and ultimately, a loving relationship. Set in the 1980s, just as the LGBTQ movement was taking off, the story takes you along Aristotle and Dante’s path of self-discovery.
What I loved most about this book was the way the parents were so open-hearted and open minded about their sons’ affection for each other, lovingly accepting (and even encouraging) their budding romance, despite the stigma associated with being gay at that time (the AIDS epidemic, the Catholic Church’s attack on gays, and legislation against gay rights).
Before meeting Dante, Aristotle is like a dark, shapeless nebulae, floating aimlessly through life with no real connections: he doesn’t watch TV, he has no friends, his mother dotes on him, and his father is unable to confront his own post-Vietnam war demons, making him out of touch and uncommunicative. Worst of all, Aristotle’s parents are hiding a deeply held family secret: Bernardo, their older son, has been in prison for years and they won’t tell Aristotle why.
When Dante swims up to Aristotle at the pool one hot summer day, it’s almost as if a cosmic explosion takes place and the two are instantly connected by a force greater than both of them.
Over time, Aristotle and Dante’s relationship is in flux; like two celestial bodies, they are caught between varying degrees of attraction and repulsion. Aristotle is badly hurt after leaping to push Dante out of the path of an oncoming car, so Dante tenderly nurses him back to health, even giving him a sponge bath. Aristotle is surprised by how good it feels, but is afraid of these new feelings and withdraws his friendship. A year later, after Dante returns from living in Chicago, their friendship is rekindled, but each is in denial of their growing affection. One day, after Dante kisses a co-worker in an alley and is beaten up by a group of homophobic thugs, Aristotle gets so upset he pummels one of the men. It is only when Aristotle’s parents tell him they believe he’s in love with Dante, that he has an epiphany. Suddenly, the walls he’s built around himself come crashing down and he realizes that the most meaningful connection he’s made in his life, is right in front of his nose.
In the end, Aristotle and Dante do discover the secret of the universe: that love is the greatest force-and it’s the one over which they have the least control.
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Reviewed by Denise Mortensen, Library/Media Assistant LFHS