While on my quest to diversify my reading, I realized that I needed to read more books within the realm of LGBTQIA+ fiction. So today, I am brining you mini reviews for two young adult books that I’ve recently read, and I think you should as well.
Books included in this post: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Bengamin Alire Sáenz & Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre: Young Adult • Contemporary • LGBTQIA+
Version: Audiobook (7h 29min listening length)
Narrator: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
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.
Is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe the longest book title ever? I wonder what the record is? It has to definitely be up there…
“I had a feeling there was something wrong with me. I guess I was a mystery even to myself.”
Honestly, I was anticipating a fluffy YA romance, but that is NOT what this book is. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is Aristotle’s (Ari) journey towards self discovery. Ari is a Mexican-American teenager who seems more at ease when he is alone. To say that Ari keeps to himself is an understatement… that is until Dante walks into his life.
Dante has my heart. As many of you know, I am such a sucker for quirky characters. Dante walks to the beat of his own drum and does not apologize for it. He is so secure in who he is, something that I greatly admire in characters. The friendship between Ari and Dante was everything. This is the type of friend I want by my side.
I will say that I did not find this book predictable in the slightest. I kept thinking that I knew what was coming next, waiting for “the moment,” but that moment did not come when I was expecting it to. I found myself second guessing my theory throughout the entire book… I’m sure those of you who have read it know what I am talking about.
Can I just say kudos to the author for including positive family dynamics in a YA book? Sure there was some family drama and secrets, but both sets of parents in this book not only loved their sons, but supported them. It is so rare to see parents who are so involved in YA, which is such a shame because strong parental relationships are so important during the teen years.
Unfortunately, the pacing for the first 60% of this book was a big issue for me. I remember reaching the 60% mark and thinking to myself, “Is anything going to actually happen in this book?” I feel like the majority of this book was some serious angst. I understand this book was about Ari discovering who he really is, but I felt like this book was way too heavy for the first half of the book, thus feeling very dense. I feel like it was missing some balance.
“We all fight our own private wars.”
With that being said, the last 40% of this book was a 5-star read for me. The ending was absolute perfection. I feel like this book could be very relatable to so many teens who don’t yet fully understand themselves.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a very character driven story, so if you are one for action-packed plots, this probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. HOWEVER, if you are looking for a beautiful book about self discovery, you need to give this one a go.
About the Author:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Author: Jeff Garvin
Genre: Young Adult • Contemporary • LGBTQIA+
Version: Audiobook (7h 47min listening length)
Narrator: Tom Phelan
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.
You all know how much I sometimes struggle with the YA genre, but I am here to tell you that Symptoms of Being Human is YA done right! Not only was I educated about all kinds of LGBTQIA+ issues and terminology that I didn’t previously fully understand, but I was also highly entertained while I was learning. These are the types of YA books that I enjoy, those that both educate and entertain at the same time.
“The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?”
Symptoms of Being Human was my first book with a gender fluid main character. I have read a book with a gender fluid secondary character before, but this one is the first book I’ve read where the focus is on gender issues and that really explores what it means to be gender fluid. I must admit, before reading this book I did not fully grasp the concept, but after reading it, I really feel like I have a good understanding. I am amazed at how Garvin was really able to take a very complex idea and simplify it into an explanation that is easy for everyone to understand.
“The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval”
This book goes into some deep issues like suicide, hate crimes, bullying, etc. There were some shocking statistics mentioned in this book…
“64% of transgender and non-binary people in the US experience sexual violence in their life—12% before they graduate high school. 41% will attempt suicide. “
41% of transgender and non-binary people attempt suicide?! This number literally had my jaw on the floor. 64% have suffered from some type of sexual violence? This is NOT acceptable. According to a 2008 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, these statistics are fairly accurate. I only hope that these rates have been reduced since 2008 as more and more people are becoming aware of transgender and non-binary experiences. This is one reason why this book is so important, it can help enlighten readers about the injustices and violence that non-binary gender individuals face, thus hopefully creating empathy.
“People do judge books by their covers; it’s human nature. They react to the way you look before they hear a single word that comes out of your mouth.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Riley, our main character, suffers from anxiety. I’m sure we all can relate to having some form of anxiety at moments in our lives, but I feel that Garvin accurately depicts how debilitating it can be to those who suffer from sever anxiety. Anxiety is definitely something that needs to be better represented in literature overall, so I was happy to see it represented here.
From what I’ve mentioned in this review, you would think that this book is a bit of a downer, but it also has some lighter moments with a touch of romance, friendships, and family dynamics. The friendship included in this book was so heartwarming. Riley, Bec, and Solo reminded me a lot of the dream team in Harry Potter: Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. I also appreciated the family dynamics included: Riley’s parents were not perfect by any means, but they did love their child and were involved and supportive of Riley.
While it is true there are definitely some tough topics addressed in Symptoms of Being Human, it definitely ends on a positive and uplifting note. This is a very important book that brings to light *some* of the experiences of those who are gender fluid (also referred to as non-binary gender or genderqueer). Books like these need to exist. If you are fuzzy on these concepts, I strongly encourage you to pick this book up. Educate yourself, so that you can in turn educate others.
About the Author:
While studying at Chapman University, Jeff won awards for classical guitar and visual storytelling before graduating with a BFA in Film. As the front man of his rock band, 7k, Garvin released three albums and toured the United States. When the band dissolved in 2011, Jeff, who had always written short stories and lyrics, found his passion in full-length fiction.
His debut novel, SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, tells the story of Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen who starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. But when the blog goes viral, a storm of media attention threatens Riley’s anonymity. Coming February 2, 2016 from Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins.
Jeff lives in Southern California with his music teacher wife, their menagerie, and a respectable collection of books and guitars.
Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think?
Comment below and let me know 🙂