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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Sáenz This is the one time that I'll encourage you to judge a book by it's cover. Look at it. From the author's name, to the title, to the illustration and the calligraphy - everything just screams beautiful. 

Then this dedication:
To all the boys who've had to learn to play by different rules.

And this preface:
Why do we smile? Why do we laugh? Why do we feel alone? Why are we sad and confused? Why do we read poetry? Why do we cry when we see a painting? Why is there a riot in the heart when we love? Why do we feel shame? What is that thing in the pit of your stomach called desire?

It is this honest language seeping through the entire book that made me fall in love with Ari and Dante. The dialogues consist mostly of short, simple sentences (that sometimes threaten to fall into monotonous territory) but the words used are always hard-hitting. The writing is simple but always insightful. If I had used an actual marker to highlight a physical copy of this book I would've dried it up from overuse. 

The novel is such a page-turner even without being plot-driven. It's about Ari, a fifteen-year-old boy who is angry and sad but has learned to hide his feelings well, and Dante, the confident boy who becomes his best friend. Their summer is spent getting to know each other and making self-discoveries but a near-tragic accident and Dante's imminent move to Chicago brought on confused feelings and tested their friendship. I can't say more than that because of spoilers but I can tell you that apart from themes of growing up and friendship, this book also touches on family, acceptance, loyalty, culture, bullying, sexuality, among others. 

Gawd, these boys. I want to be friends with them. I want my phantom kids to grow up to be like them. I want to tell the average YA/NA character, 'hey, being a teenager with a shitty life and repressed feelings or being sulky and angry does not give you an excuse to be mean.' These are boys who have character. They possess strength in the face of peer pressure. They have a good sense of what is wrong and right - always trying to do the right thing. They're not a pair of goody-two-shoes. They're just good. And they're not abnormally strong. They hurt like every other person, which only makes me want to hug them and tell them that it will get better and they will find the niche where they belong. 

This is truly one of the best coming-of-age stories I've ever read. The romance is so sweet - a lot of heart and zero cheese and the happy ending more than makes up for the moments of sadness throughout the book. If you want to take a break from unpleasant characters, pick up this book. And while you're at it, gift this to everyone you know.