Gay Mexican Teen Boys in the Desert Southwest?: Review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

For someone who claims to blog about children’s books, I actually review very few books on here. I think that’s because if I read a really good book, I take a very long time to digest it. And because I have ADD, that means that I rarely get back to it.

If you’re looking for a list of REALLY GOOD BOOKS, though, these are the books that I have been meaning to get around to write about for ages:

  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (To talk about divorce)
  • Tangerine
  • Nobody’s Family is Going to Change
  • Thirteen Reasons Why (To talk about teen depression and suicide.)

So go read all of those books. But today I’m actually GOING to talk about a book that I have now read probably six times. I mentioned it to someone the other day, and I realized that it would be unforgivable for me not to get around to talking about this particular book on here.

As you can see from the cover, it got a whole mess of awards in 2013. The Pura Belpre, awarded to a Latino writer writing about the Latino cultural experience. The Stonewall Award, awarded for excellent books about GLBTQ issues. And, of course, the Printz honor. It deserved every one of them. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, well, ever.

It’s by Benjamin Alire Saenz, whose novel Last Night I Sang to the Monster I’ve talked about a number of times. For the kinds of things I talk about on here, his writing just can’t be beat. And just briefly, this book is Annie on My Mind for boys. But it’s for gay mexican boys living in the desert southwest.


Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.


Well, first of all, I got choked up re-reading that summary from the book jacket. The book was just THAT GOOD. But here’s why this book is really important. I have gay students here in Santa Fe and I have tried to get them to read this book and they have ALL said to me, “No, miss, I don’t read.” And then I realized: not one of them has ever read a book that really reflects their experience. There are no books about gay Mexican boys living in the desert southwest. There are very few books with Mexican protagonists. There are very few books set in the Southwest. And while the number of books about gay boys has definitely been on the rise for years, they are mostly white boys in New England. Just the fact that there is a love story set in this culture in this place, is almost a miracle.

All kids deserve to have their experience reflected back to them, but most of the books for teens, I’m just being honest, are written by middle-aged white women and feature middle-class, white protagonists. Which is fine, but I am so glad for the Matt de la Penas and the Coe Booths and the Benjamin Alire Saenzs who are writing about non-white teens living in places other than the suburbs.

And this book is just so beautiful. I found myself reading and re-reading it because it was just the best love story that I’ve maybe ever read, period. But particularly for both gay and lesbian teens. Especially for ones growing up in a place where they aren’t even told that being Gay is an option. Every book collection should include this book. Every library should have this book. Every book store should carry this book. Period.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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7 Responses to Gay Mexican Teen Boys in the Desert Southwest?: Review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

  1. Thanks for reminding me of this book, Pam! I’m going to add it to my independent-projects list for my American Misfits and Outsiders class.

  2. I didn’t know I was the one who turned you onto Tangerine! I’m so glad my obsessive love for that book has done some good in this world! I think it is the OF MICE AND MEN of middle-grade — literary, interpretable, suspenseful, full of things to discuss, and just so, so good.

  3. pamwatts says:

    Yupp. Totally read it because you mentioned it so many times on the forum. And it is, indeed, fabulous.

  4. Pingback: Gender Book list | Strong in the Broken Places

  5. Pingback: Racism: Let’s Talk about It. | Strong in the Broken Places

  6. Pingback: Review Wednesday: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe | Strong in the Broken Places

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