Reviews of the 2013 Belpré Author Award winners

Aristotle and Dante Answer the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire SáenzWinner: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon)
Aristotle — Ari for short — meets Dante at the pool one summer day in 1987, and the two boys quickly strike up a friendship that will change their lives in ways both subtle and profound. Ari admires Dante’s gregarious personality, his intellectual curiosity, and his close bond with his parents, especially his father. In contrast, Ari’s own father, a Vietnam vet, remains aloof, damaged by his experience of war, and both parents refuse to discuss his imprisoned older brother. When Ari saves Dante’s life but breaks his own legs in the process, it not only strengthens their friendship but cements the bond between the two Mexican American families. When Dante’s father leaves El Paso for a one-year position at the University of Chicago, the boys stay in touch through letters. Dante had telegraphed his sexual attraction to Ari, but now comes out to his friend in writing. When Dante returns, the two cautiously resume their friendship, but when Dante gets beat up in an alley for kissing another boy, it’s a catalyst for Ari to examine how he really feels about Dante. Ari’s first-person narrative — poetic, philosophical, honest — skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance, leading to the inevitable conclusion: “How could I have ever been ashamed of loving Dante Quintana?” JONATHAN HUNT

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia ManzanoHonor: The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano (Scholastic Press)
Set in the summer of 1969, Manzano’s solid first novel deals with the political and cultural awakening of fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano, who tells us straight off that she prefers to be called Evelyn because “El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, U.S.A., did not need another Rosa, María, or Carmen.” She’s not particularly happy with her life: her best friend has dropped her, her mother embarrasses her, and she hates the stench of overflowing garbage cans in her neighborhood. To make things worse, she has to give up her bedroom when her grandmother arrives from Puerto Rico, and Evelyn’s charismatic orange-haired Abuela is not an easy person to live with. She’s loud, messy, and opinionated, and she constantly clashes with Evelyn’s more conservative mother. Abuela becomes involved with the Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican Nationalist group working to empower the residents of Spanish Harlem, and she shares with Evelyn pieces of her own family history relating to the 1937 Ponce Massacre, part of an earlier Nationalist movement. Evelyn becomes increasingly radicalized and joins a protest occupation of her church. Based on true events, the story develops organically through well-realized fictional characters dealing with complex family dynamics. Manzano has a gift for providing just the right amount of historical and political context for today’s young readers without slowing the pace. The story has obvious parallels to Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer (rev. 3/10), and the two would make a great pairing. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

Horn Book
Horn Book

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