By Bejamin Alire Sáenz
Another gem from a Renaissance man: poet/author/curator Bejamin Alire Sáenz has recently introduced his latest quirk of a YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Aristotle has a lot to be bitter about. His dad barely talks, let alone answers any questions about his time in Vietnam. His own mother has more friends than him. His sisters are all grown up and never around. His brother is in prison, but he might as well be dead because nobody even mentions his name anymore. It’s the late ‘80s and school’s out for the summer, but Aristotle doesn’t really have anything to look forward to other than swimming (or attempting to, anyways). He’s pretty much accepted the fact that he’ll walk through the rest of his high school career a loser (and he’ll fight anyone who gives him crap about it.) But one day at the pool, a guy named Dante gives him some swimming tips. From there, everything changes.
At first glance, Dante’s personality is the polar opposite of Ari’s. He’s crazy about his parents, he’s confident, secure in his loner-dom, he’s emotionally expressive, he’s a brilliant poet — he’s everything Ari’s not. But they have an unmistakable bond, and it’s not just because they both have weird, philosophical names. They share a poignant sense of being “othered” due to their Mexican identities, and a profound, wholly unique view on their world. Throughout the story Ari softens his rough edges, finding new ways to open up to Dante more and more. Perhaps he’s inspired by Dante’s poetic expression and flattered by his attention, or perhaps he simply cares so much about him that he wants to let him in his world. Ari learns to see himself the way Dante does… At the risk of revealing spoilers, I’ll stop here.
Though the plot moves fairly slowly at first, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is generally a quick read; the chapters are short and it’s heavy in dialogue. And the storyline really picks up toward the end, as more “secrets of the universe” are revealed. It’s a tad on the angsty side, even for a young adult novel, but Ari and Dante ultimately became my heroes by the end. Recommended for ages 13+.
By Patricia Briggs
I’ve never been a big fan of monsters. As a little girl I had nightmares about them crawling through my window, vampires scare me to death (I mean who really wants to be forcefully bitten on the neck with cold, sharp fangs? Ouch!), and if I ever saw a zombie, my blood-curdling screams would probably make the zombie run the other way. In spite of all this, I recently found myself choosing, reading, and thoroughly enjoying a paranormal romance book. Patricia Briggs’ Cry Wolf, the first book in her Alpha and Omega series, is an entertaining, suspenseful, and gripping story about a completely different kind of creature that goes bump in the night: the werewolf, i.e., Jacob, Professor Remus, and other misunderstood four-legged furballs.
In Cry Wolf, we meet Anna who was turned into a werewolf against her will, and Charlie, a powerful, politically savvy werewolf who is determined to protect Anna at any cost. The action is non-stop and includes multiple fight scenes. Briggs has painstakingly created a detailed world and culture centered around the werewolves’ ability to survive the bone-chilling mountains in winter. However, characters’ depth, shown, for example, when Charles’ unshakeable belief in himself and others faltered, was what really made Cry Wolf a special read for me. Perhaps I’m no closer than before to reading stories about vampires and zombies, but if I find a book featuring one that’s as well written as one of Patricia Briggs stories, I may just be converted.
Check out more of Patricia Brigg’s stories conveniently located in the Sci-Fi section at WPL’s Main Branch!
Alpha and Omega series:
1. Cry Wolf (includes prequel Alpha and Omega)
2. Hunting Ground
3. Fair Game
4. Dead Heat
Also if you prefer a different kind of canine in your stories, try Briggs’ coyote shape shifter paranormal romance series: Mercy Thompson. The first book in this series is titled Moon Called.
By Dave Eggers
Google employment benefits are the stuff of fairy tales for most American workers: free onsite daycare, five-star cafeteria food, office cots for power naps, massage credits for work well done. If for no other reason than sheer entertainment, read this exaggerated, fictional account of Google life; you can tell author Dave Eggers really had fun creating his made-up company The Circle.
But there’s a darker theme spinning in the background…the plot of The Circle centers around recent college graduate Mae Holland, feeling unfulfilled by a monotonous job at a utility company until she swallows her pride and asks ex-college roomie and corporate superstar Annie to help get her hired at The Circle, the most influential Internet company in the world. Once there a few weeks, Mae’s dream job full of incredible opportunities to affect positive societal change while enjoying outrageous perks turns more sinister as her on-campus popularity skyrockets when she unwittingly volunteers for a human “connection” experiment.
Mae agrees to wear a camera around her neck and subject herself to the world’s commentary 24/7, and while she does succeed at increasing her accessibility with the world at large, her non-Circle relationships completely unravel. Nonetheless, believing her own hype (and much to her bosses’ delight), Mae floats the progressive idea of voting, paying bills, and streamlining all social media interactions through one mandatory Circle account. Public opinion grows divisive; on the one hand, eliminating the need for many accounts and many passwords appeals to many, but wouldn’t that result in a government-sanctioned corporate monopoly? Suddenly, the best of intentions has morphed into a looming threat of totalitarianism through technology.
What will happen once “the circle” is complete? A cautionary tale about the potential dangers of excessive social media proliferation and surveillance of the citizenry, read The Circle and reflect on your own beliefs on where modern technology is leading the world.
Start Where You Are
By Pema Chödrön
Don’t read this book if you want to change. Pema Chödrön will not only tell you that you’re already okay, and all the things you probably don’t like about yourself are actually useful.
Self-help books usually start with the premise that something is wrong and needs fixing, but in Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, the emphasis is not on solving problems, but rather on self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is not an easy lesson, but the humor and humility Pema weaves into her teachings make them easier to receive. She even includes stories of her own blunders, making Pema feel relatable and her teachings achievable.
Chödrön, an ordained Buddhist nun, bases Start Where You Are on Buddhist teachings, focusing specifically on what are known as traditional slogans. The slogans, along with some foreign vocabulary, add an element of difficulty to the reading, but the unfamiliarity makes for a good starting point. Chödrön uses these unfamiliar bits as opportunities to shed light on difficult concepts, turning seemingly abstract ideas into something clear and within reach.
What I love about this book is that it reads like Pema is speaking to you, as though you went on a meditation retreat and were presented with these lessons. Pema acknowledges the real emotional difficulties that arise from the diversity of experiences life brings, asking you to work with the emotions instead of sweeping them under the rug and telling you to think happy thoughts.
If you have never read a book by Pema Chödrön, are interested in learning about self-acceptance, facing the difficulties of your life head-on, or Buddhism generally, then this book is for you.