Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I picked up the book ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe‘ from Amazon yesterday because the title had been intriguing me for quite some time and I was in a mood to read something different. This is a gay coming of age story of two boys. That much I knew from the blurb. But what captured me from the first chapter was the way it was written. Some chapters were just a few lines long. And it never exceeded more than 2 pages per chapter. It was crisp, neat, deep and very realistic. Nothing too dramatic, nothing to clichéd (except may be you would think that the ending is) and it still made me feel a lot. Its the story of two boys who become friends and slowly get to know each other and in the process get to know themselves too. Ari (aka Aristotle) is the boy who is always alone and he is perfectly content with it meets this boy Dante (no nick names) in a swimming pool one day and for some reason Ari warms up to Dante when he can’t even stand the rest of the guys he is used to. Ari has a lot going on in his mind with so many things that has happened in his family. Especially being the youngest with a huge difference of almost 20 years between him and his twin sisters who treat him like their son than their brother, a brother who is 11 year or so older than him and who is in prison and almost forgotten by the family, a father who rarely talks and is always sad because of the scars of his Vietnam war days. The only person he is comfortable around is his mother who is a teacher. On the other hand, Dante has  very understanding parents where his father is a lecturer and his mother is a therapist and he just loves them to pieces (one of his confession actually) but still he feels less of Mexican and never belonging to a place. They both have their own baggage of being of the verge of manhood and their own way of dealing with it. But when they become friends it is like they found a way to handle it together.

I am not going into the story here. Actually as a story there is nothing much to tell and yet it is so difficult to put it in a few words, at least for me. I don’t remember much from my childhood or adolescent days (except for a few incidents and events that had some kind of impact) but I definitely don’t remember struggling so much or may be I did but I forgot because it has been so long ago ? I don’t know but I definitely know that I didn’t know a thing about boys growing up even though I had a younger brother. Because we were never that close growing up and we are only just two years apart. All I remember was he was in his own world and was pretty level headed than me in real life. That much I remember. When you grow up and you have siblings it is hard to not be compared or feel like you are being compared to them. This line where Ari says ‘Why did I have to be a good boy just because I had a bad-boy brother ? I hated the way my mom and dad did family math.’ made me smile. I remember saying that albeit in a different context.

I really liked it because it wasn’t just about those boys, it was about two families. About how each of them are insecure in their own way. About how parents make mistakes and accept to their kids that they were also humans and they also try , every day, to do things in a right way for their kids. Sometimes they get it right, some times they don’t. Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder. How very true. The story easily flows between the two boys and their families. It slowly unravels the problems that their parents are facing, bring with it the solutions too. There is light humor through out, even when Ari is not actually aiming for it. ‘Dogs don’t censor themselves. Maybe animals were smarter than people. The dog was so happy. My mom and dad too. It felt good to know that they loved the dog, that they let themselves do that. And somehow it seemed that the dog helped us be a better family.‘ I really know this feeling. I remember sneaking on my sister sitting near our dog and complaining about our parents or her siblings if she had a row with them and just because they thought that she was the youngest and can be always treated like a kid 🙂 and almost expecting our dog to respond to her. But our dog,  bless his soul, he used to give her his full attention as if he really understood her and absorbed all her pain, how ever trivial and small they were. Animals are much smarter than humans. I guess we needed that extra sense to compete with them. And it is not easy to get to know people. Just like Ari says, ‘I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get–and never would get.’

I think I can go on and on about the book. It was a very interesting , very well written coming of age young adult realistic fiction about two boys who not only find some secrets of the universe for themselves, they also teach their families and readers a lesson or two. ‘I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.

Severed Heads and Broken Hearts – Different

Its weird to see how a book has two different titles. I got it from Amazon because of the funny title ‘Severed Heads and Broken Hearts‘, thinking what kind of title is that and to see if it really lives up to the reviews. But in Goodreads, it is called ‘The Beginning of Everything‘. And I completed it in a day (well, it did take away my sleep and I am walking like a zombie today, but whatever).

Spoiler Alert (No way I can talk about this book without saying anything about the story)

The story starts with (one of ) the quote

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. —ERNEST HEMINGWAY

How very true!!!!! The story is about Ezra Faulkner, high school jock with the trophy girlfriend and has a very cool image. He lost a friend when his friend held a severed head in his hands during a Disney ride. Scary, yes, but that also was the beginning of things he started losing aka a very good friendship. And then one day , after a pool party, when he breaks up with his girlfriend (she cheats on him) life changes for him forever when his vehicle is hit by another and he ends up broken, literally, ending his career in sports and permanently with a cane. But that doesn’t mean this story is about a broken boy who finds his way out through his depressive phase. No, it isn’t dystopian. Its not even utopian. Its more realistic. Where the boy who is a nice guy but a little bit distorted trying to be part of a group so that he could feel that did belong , now feels like he is the outsider and is trying to find a way to fix his life after the accident. There enters the girl Cassidy, all funny looking in boy’s dresses, totally trying to be non-existent but somehow making a huge impact on Ezra. Its not love at first sight, no sparks, no highly intense chemical vapors bubbling from that pipette. But there is an underlying attraction for Ezra at least after getting to know Cassidy for a short period of time. He becomes friends with his old friend Toby (the boy who caught the severed head) and his gang who are the nerdy folks. He is glad to be where he is right then, being the person he actually is and not some masked version of who everyone expects him to be. He is also surprised that people are able to accept him even with his injury, which is slightly disconcerting for him. Easy if people mock you and call you names and hurt you, but when they are encouraging there is no way he can use it against them and feel good about it so that he doesn’t feel bad for himself naa. 

When things seem to go well for him, with the school and its usual drama that accompanies the young age, he starts to fall in love with Cassidy and believes that it is reciprocated (yes, it is). He is truly different and happy with her and cherishes his times with her. But during the homecoming dance day she breaks up with him without telling him the real reason, which leaves him confounded. He doesn’t go behind her begging her or anything like that. She is absent for a while and then when she comes back to school, even though he wants to know what happened he accepts for what it was until he feels that she did it on purpose and there is something missing. Finally when he finds that out and still wants to be with her, she is not able to give that to him. And he is not ready to get her to do that for him. Because he feels that she has to let go on her own. That is how they end up with broken hearts at the end and even though life goes on for them, he realizes that their times helped him speed up his process of recognizing himself and that it is solely upto him to decide on how to live rather than exist.

It was a totally different take on a young adult fiction, especially with a protagonist who has a life time injury. Its a romance angle too, but it is mostly a realistic fiction, where things are as they would be in normal life, or at least more or less like that. No crying their heart outs, no unnecessary drama, simple realizations. I really really like it. Here are some quotes which I earmarked.

I still think that everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a singular tragic encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. That moment is the catalyst— the first step in the equation. But knowing the first step will get you nowhere— it’s what comes after that determines the result.

If everything really does get better, the way everyone claims, then happiness should be graphable. But that’s crap, because better isn’t quantifiable.

Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spend a long time existing, and now, I intend to live.

It was a very well written and interesting read.