Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Witch's Boy

The Witch's Boy
Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin, 2014  372 pgs
Grades 5-8
Fantasy/Adventure

Ned, a boy who resides in the most distant village of a distant and isolated kingdom loses his twin brother in a tragic boating accident.  His father was only able to save one twin and Ned got lucky. The experience has left Ned tongue-tied and unable to read. It is whispered about in the village that "the wrong boy lived".  Meanwhile, Ned's mother is the kingdom's "witch woman" and protects and manages an ancient strain of magic hidden in the basement of their little hut.  Deep in the enchanted forest that boarders Ned's village lives Aine, who resides in a small cottage with her father, the Bandit King.  The Bandit King has magic of his own, contained in a necklace, which has made him crazy and greedy.  He gathers all the wandering bandits together and forms and rag-tag army in search of riches and power.  They attack Ned's hut trying to steal Ned's mother's magic.  Mother is not home, so it is up to Ned to coral the magic and escape with it into the forest.  There he befriends a wolf and Aine.  The three companions encounter many dangerous and life-threatening situations while trying to stop the evil army.  The Bandit King draws an alliance with the young and greedy king of the kingdom on the other side of the enchanted forest and the royal army joins forces with the bandits, set to destroy Ned's land in order to obtain Mom's magic.  Unbeknownst to any of them, ancient stones, the source of all the magic, have been awakened.  They also take part in the final showdown between the armies, along with Ned, Aine, and the wolf.  The truth behind the death of Ned's twin is revealed, as well as the lengths his mother was willing to go to save her children.  At last order is restored, the magic is returned to its proper place, government is re-evaluated, and Ned and  Aine find peace.

The Witch's Boy has received amazing reviews this year, so it has been on my list to read.  The book is definitely well written and original.  It contains alternating narrators and parallel story lines which merge at the end.  The setting is well conceived and plot is tight.  For my taste the book was a bit too dark with not enough contrast, but this may be because much of the action takes place in the dark of the forest.  It also felt a bit long and dense and it took me a long time to get through it.  Themes include greed, war, government corruption, friendship, finding your inner-courage, and choosing the right path even if the adults in your life are weak.  The magic is ancient and wild and the stones behind it all are interesting characters in their own right.  Ned is clearly a reluctant hero.  He see his growth from an uncertain boy not capable to even carry on a conversation with a neighbor to a brave young man who attempts to stop a war.  Aine is also fully developed and faces tough choices with courage and wisdom.  My favorite character is the queen of Ned's land, who is wise and bold despite her advanced years.  The cover of this book does it no justice.  I thought it had to do with cave people in prehistoric times by the looks of it and resisted picking it up.  Kid's are very visual, perhaps making the book a hard sell.  Dark, atmospheric fantasy is currently trending and The Witch's Boy certainly fills this bill.  Both boys and girls who love dark magic and adventure will love this book.  It is clearly a stand alone title, but I can see room for a sequel, should the first installment be popular with young people.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Caldecott/Newbery/Printz Predictions

Newbery, Caldecott & Printz Awards

On February second many people will be on pins and needles waiting to hear if the groundhog has seen his shadow.  This year, librarians and children's book lovers everywhere will be on pins and needles waiting to hear who won the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz medals for the best books of the year for young people, announced at the American Library Association's mid-winter conference.

It is my professional dream to serve on the Newbery committee and maybe one day I'll get there.  In the meantime I spend my year speculating which books will win and rooting for my favorites.  It is important to note that my favorite books of the year rarely win.  I tend to lean towards readable books that young people would enjoy.  The committees select what they feel is the best book, regardless of popularity or interest level.  I can count on my fingers how many of my favorites have won.  I correctly predicted Holes, Tale of Desperaux, Dead End in Norvelt, When you Reach Me, and The Graveyard Book.  After over twenty years in the business, that's it. My track record for the Caldecott is even more dismal.  It  might even be said that an award prediction by Kate Nafz jinxes a book's chances (Sorry, Ms. Palacio).  Nevertheless, I keep reading like mad, predicting, and tuning in on announcement day.  Here are this year's predictions:


Newbery Award (best written work for children) Prediction:

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Mystery, historical fiction, contemporary realism all under the backdrop of New York City (my favorite place) and all about art.  Plus a likable protagonist.  This book has a little bit of everything good.

Newbery Honor Predictions:
This is, in my humble opinion, the amazing Civil Rights trifecta (in no particular order):

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Because They Marched by Russell Freedman
Revolution by Debbie Wiles

Printz Award (best book for teens) Prediction:

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Amazingly written sneak peak into the minds of two twin artists.  The plot moves and twists with a family mystery eventually solved.  Nelson is my new favorite author.

If pressed to pick an honor book this year I would go with The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming; an impeccably researched and written account of the Russian Revolution.


Caldecott Award (best illustrated work for children) Prediction:
Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
A sweet, wordless picture book showcasing the amazing talent of Frazee.

Caldecott Honor Predictions (in no particular order):
Draw by Raul Colon
Quest by Aaron Becker
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato


Friday, January 23, 2015

Poisoned Apples

Poisoned Apples
Christine Heppermann
HarperCollins, 2014  103 pgs
Grades 9-Up
Poetry

Heppermann pens fifty poems loosely based on fairy tale characters.  These are not your grandmother's fairy tales.  Hepperman takes classic characters and re-examines them through modern feminist eyes.  Angst and problems facing young women of today are explored by re-working classic characters and using them as a vehicle to demonstrate the challenges and injustices of current times.  The poems are hard hitting and dark.  Themes explored are anorexia, rape, relationship struggles, society's pressure for physical perfection, and entrapment.  Each poem is presented on one double page spread with a haunting photograph as background.  An author's note at the end of the volume explains her motivation behind writing the poems and invites young people to face their own demons in order to find healing.  An index of first lines and photographs round out the superbly crafted volume.

Poisoned Apples is at first glance a thin volume of fairytale poems that looks like an easy read.  Looks can be deceiving.  Fairytale does not necessarily mean warm and fuzzy, as Heppermann points out.  She explores the darkness behind traditional female characters, while revealing painful experiences of young women today.  The poems are edgy and biting and often uncomfortable to read.  That said, they are also beautiful, impeccable written, and stay with you long after you close the slim volume.  I began reading this book in June and had to put it down for a while because it was making me too sad.  I found it in the glove compartment of my car and finally read it in about an hour.  The themes explored are for mature readers only and since it very obviously has a feminist agenda girls will gravitate towards it more than boys.  The photographs included in the book are stunning and add to the experience of the poetry.  Not for everyone, Poisoned Apples is a special and important little work that should be included in library collections and will appeal to sensitive young women who need an outlet for their emotions. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren
Viking, 1950  160 pgs.
Grades 3-5
Humor

A beloved children's classic, Pippi has charmed and entertained readers for over fifty years.  Enter a small town in Sweden in the ramshackle house called Villa Villakulla.  There resides a larger than life girl named Pippi, who lives alone with her monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a horse on the porch.  Pippi is not by any means an ordinary girl.  She has super-strength and is utterly fearless.  Because of a lack of book learning, Pippi isn't the best reader or mathematician and her manners are atrocious, but that never slows her down from jumping into life with both feet.  Neighbors Tommy and Annika befriend Pippi and she turns their lives upside down.  Whether its making cookies on the floor or having a tea party in a tree, Pippi always makes the most ordinary tasks interesting.  Even the circus gets livened up when Pippi rides around the ring standing up on a horse and walking the tightrope.  She stands up to bullies, outwits robbers, and saves small children from burning buildings.  Best of all, she has three other adventures that follow after the first book is finished.

Pippi is one of my favorite characters in all of children's literature.  She has the naivete and humor of Amelia Bedilia, but with super hero strength in a pint-sized body.  She is fierce and fearless and always tries to be kind, especially to the helpless.  Children will enjoy seeing the world through Pippi's eyes as they read her adventures: the independence and freedom of living alone, not having to go to school, never getting pushed around, having as much money as you will ever need, having a pet monkey and a horse living on the porch, and always finding adventure.  Its a child's best fantasy.  Tommy and Annika serve as Pippi's "straight guys" and we meet and experience Pippi's antics right along with them.  Best of all, the book is very funny.  I remember hanging on every word of this book when my fourth grade teacher read it aloud to the class in 1976.  Reading it now, I still fell into it and found it hilariously funny.  It made me feel like a child again.  I read this book with my Reader's Rock book club for third and fourth graders this month and they also loved it, so this is a book that has stood the test of time.  Pippi has been made into several movies and a TV series, but nothing recently.  I think the time has come for Pippi to be made into a major motion picture, although I will probably be disappointed in it.  Lindgren's book is very special and Pippi is so real in my mind that no movie could do it justice.  A great read aloud for parents to share with their children or for both boys and girls to read on their own, this book will be enjoyed by all.  Full-page illustrations accompany the text. A new over-sized version was released in 2007 with fresh illustrations by Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) that breathe new life into this beloved classic.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone
Adele Griffin
Soho Teen, 2014  241 pgs
Grades 9-12
Realistic Fiction

A fictional biography tracing the short life of New York City artist and "It Girl", Addison Stone.  Griffin, herself a fictionalized character, offers a note at the beginning explaining how she was briefly acquainted with Addison and her desire to capture her story.  We see Addison's life from childhood through young adulthood through a series of interviews, e-mails, newspaper and magazine stories, photographs, and pictures of her art work.  Through all the pieces of the puzzle a young troubled, yet highly creative and talented, person shines through.Too bright for her small town, Addison moves to New York City the summer before what should be her senior year in high school.  Her work becomes highly celebrated and she emerges as a trend setting party girls, whose personality and outrageous stunts add to her persona.  Through it all, we see Addison's battle with mental illness, as she is constantly followed by, Ida (a ghost?), who disappears when Addison is taking her medicine.  Eventually the bright light that is Addison goes out as she topples off the Manhattan Bridge while hanging her latest piece of art.  Did one her former boyfriends push her, as authorities suspect, or did she simply fall on her own?  Was it an accident or suicide?  These are the answers that the author seeks to uncover.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is a cool and clever book.  It reminds me of Cathy's Book, which was popular about ten years ago with teenagers, that contained an internet element that made the book seem like it was a real story.  Addison Stone feels like a real story.  I even googled her after reading the book to see if she existed in any way.  She didn't.  The author based her character on a real girl, who is featured in the photos.  The photos are great as is the enclosed artwork.  The design of the book is amazing.  Griffin did a commendable job in writing the story and each character interviewed has a distinctive voice. The plot itself is a bit lacking.  This is a "concept book" and less of a linear story and more of a well-designed and executed collection of faux-interviews and visuals.  The book labels itself as a mystery.  I guess the mystery is to determine: what really happened to Addison that night on the bridge and how she died.  We also wonder as to whether Ida was a delusion of Addison's or a spirit.  We never find out in either case.  The mysteries remains mysteries and by the time I got there, I frankly didn't care.  Addison, herself, is a very selfish and unlikable person, who is unrelatable.  The book looks like it should read quickly, considering it contains so many visuals, but it read very slowly for me.  This may be because I kept forgetting who the many characters in Addison's life were and who it was speaking.  All of these quibbles aside, young creative teenagers will love this book.  Street art is very fashionable right now and the life Addison lives is one that artistically minded kids crave.  From the parties to the New York City art scene, this is a fashionable world where most of us will never visit, except through books and media.  Is it realistic that an eighteen year old girl becomes a highly collectible artist overnight?  Perhaps not, but teenagers won't care.  This book is sure to become the "It Book" with teen fashionistas everywhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Loot

LOOT by Jude WatsonLoot
Jude Watson
Scholastic, 2014  272 pgs.
Grades 5-8
Mystery/Adventure

12-year-old March stands by while his father, and sole parent, plunges to his death from a rooftop in Amsterdam in the middle of a jewelry heist.  A professional jewel thief, March's dad instructs him to "find Jewels" with his very last breath.  "Jewels" turns out to be "Jules", a long-lost twin sister living with an aunt March didn't know he had.  The reunited twins are sent back to the states to live in a perfectly horrible foster home where they become acquainted with Darius and Izzy.  After Jules is kidnapped, the other three run away to New York City and rescue her from Dad's evil ex-partner.  The ex-partner is after legendary moonstones, which are magical.  A very wealthy lady seeks to acquire the now separated set of moonstones.  The four young people now have to beat the clock to steal all the moonstones from various places before the next blue moon in order to be rewarded with millions of dollars.  Unfortunately, they have to get the stones before the evil ex-partner does, as well as a tv star/ex-cop, who also seeks the fortune they will bring.  While collecting the rare stones, Jules and March are also battling an old curse prophesying that they will fall to their deaths before their thirteenth birthday, which is mere days away.  As more stones are gathered, the curse weighs heavier and heavier.  The moonstones are at last brought back together and a rendezvous determined.  Who will actually deliver the moonstones and collect the reward?  Will March and Jules beat the prophesy and live to see age thirteen?  What is the future of the young people with no adults to take care of them?  All is revealed by books end in a satisfying conclusion.

Loot is a good, old-fashioned action/thriller.  Surprises, plot twists, and interesting characters lurk behind every corner.  The reader gets a vicarious glimpse into the life of a cat burglar/jewelry thief.  Jules spends her childhood in a traveling acrobatic circus and has amazing aerial abilities, another life which children fantasize about exploring.  The four kids are fearless and independent, each complimenting the other with separate skills that makes them an excellent team.  They outwit the adults and take control of their own desperate situations.  The plot never stops, twisting and turning at break neck speed.  Secondary characters abound and the reader is never really sure who to trust, as people turn out to be not what they seem.  Even though there were many characters, I had no trouble keeping them apart.  This book is perfect for a reluctant reader.  The chapters are short and the pages beg to be turned.  Watson had me at the opening sequence when March is waiting for his father to complete the initial heist in Amsterdam.  It doesn't hurt that the book also has an enticing cover.  Loot is perfect for both girls and boys and would fill the bill for both adventure and mystery book reports.  It is a stand-alone book, which is refreshing.  Readers don't have to read the whole series to reach a conclusion.  Watson leaves behind no loose threads as she wraps the plot up neatly and completely.  Great escapism for a cold winters day!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson
Dial, 2014  371 pgs.
Grades 9-Up
Realistic

Alternating points of view and time periods tell the stories of twins Jude and Noah.  We experience with them the pivotal summer of their thirteenth year, as they both enter into the arena of romance, prepare for high school, and suffer the break up of their parents, and, eventually, the death of their mother.  What exactly happened during this time period is slowly revealed interspersed with chapters in the present, three years later, while the now sixteen-year-olds are still reeling from the fall-out.  Noah and Jude were both as close as fraternal twins could get.  Both artistic and vying for their mother's attention, they planned on applying to one of the best art high school in the country, conveniently located in northern California region.  A series of events, misunderstandings, and jealousy breaks the twins apart and leads them to a war, which keeps escalating, resulting in a complete deterioration of their relationship.   Jude attends the art school, following the wacky rituals left behind by her late grandmother and  hiding behind superstition.  Once thought to be the most promising artist, Noah goes to the public high school and tries to blend in with the "regular kids", keeping his homosexuality and super-charged creativity a secret.  By book's end we know the whole story of what really happened to the family during that important summer and both Noah and Jude do as well.  They come back together as one unit, stronger and better than before.

Wow!  What a great book!  Nelson captures the individual voices of her characters perfectly and presents an artistically written book, perfect for narrating two artists.  The book is so beautifully written and the language so rich that it feels like poetry.  Every word Nelson uses is intentional.  Though the book is carefully written, the non-linear plot remains amazing.  We are kept guessing throughout the book and pieces of the story are slowly revealed.  Some times the reader can guess where Nelson is leading us, other times its a surprise.  Other minor characters, such as the sculptor who mentors Jude, her British love interest, Noah's love interest and the father, are all developed and interesting.  I'll Give You the Sun allows the reader to see inside the mind of two different, yet talented, artists,  Noah, especially, is so brilliant, yet so quirky that he is a pleasure to read.  I feel like I now know these people and expect to see Noah and Jude's work in a museum in the future.  I'll Give You the Sun is not for the average teenager.  Give it to thoughtful, creative kids, either boys or girls.  Adults will like it too.  I wasn't a big fan of the ending, which sewed a lot of complicated situations up into a nice neat package.  Books for teenagers, regardless of how dysfunctional the story is, must end on a hopeful note.  Nelson completes every plot thread in the happiest possible manner, which to me, cheapens what was a very complex and mature story.  Ending aside, this was, hands down, the best book I read for teenagers this year.  Interesting enough, even though I have many teenagers in my life, I can't see any of them "getting" this book.  I plan on passing it to a college art student, who I think will totally get it and love it.  She will appreciate the happy ending.  Life has too many disappointments we can't control.  Its nice to have our fiction all work out the way we think it should.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Treasure Hunters

Treasure Hunters
James Patterson, Chris Graberstein, and Mark Shulman
Juliana Neufeld (Illustrator)
Little Brown, 2013  451 pgs.
Grades 3-7
Adventure, Mystery

Bick and his three siblings have an unusual life.  Their parents are renowned archaeologists and professional treasure hunters.  The family lives on a boat and travels the world diving for lost treasure.  The kids are home schooled and all have special talents that they use to help their parents on their missions.  Tragedy strikes as first Mom disappears in Greece and then Dad falls off the boat during a storm and is presumed dead.  The four kids chose to continue the assignment Dad was working on, if only they can figure it out.  As they untangle the cryptic clues left behind by their father, the siblings encounter one dangerous situation after another, from scary underworld figures to sea pirates.  Not knowing who to trust and trying to survive as young people in an adult world, brains, guts and ingenuity are all put to the test.  As they travel the seas from the tropics to New York City, the siblings learn secrets about their parents and the true nature of their work.  At book's end the treasure is put into the proper hands, the bad guys are uncovered, and a glimmer of hope that their parents are still alive leads the kids to their next adventure: Danger Down the Nile (2014).

James Patterson is a genius.  He knows what it takes to make adults, teens, and kids flip pages and never seems to run out of ideas.  He is also generous enough to give credit and a career start to the co-authors, who help him bring his many stories to life.  Treasure Hunters is a reluctant reader's delight.  It is generously illustrated with comic-style pictures, meant to have been contributed by Bick's twin sister Beck.  The chapters are short, the margins are generous, the type is big, and much of the book is written in dialog, making it read quickly.  The book is long (451 pages), yet reads so quickly that it doesn't seem long, and will make unsure readers feel proud of themselves when they finish.  The action never stops and surprises are around every bend.  The mystery aspect will keep kids guessing and encourage them to think as they read.  There is also a lot of humor, reminding me of Buckley's N.E.R.D.S.series.  The concept is also very cool.  What kid (or adult for that matter) wouldn't love to live on a boat treasure hunting instead of going to school?  The characters are one-dimensional and under-developed, but who cares?  Its not that kind of a book.  Its a book that kids will eat up with a spoon, especially appealing to boys.  My library's copy, only a year old, is already stained with a cracked spine.  A perfect book for a cold winter day, fasten your seat belt and escape with the Kidd family to warm, shark infested waters and be prepared for a wild ride!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook, 2014  200 pgs.
Grades 6-Up
Non-Fiction

Sheinkin offers a non-fiction account of the fifty African-American Navy sailors during World War who were tried and convicted of treason.  We first see the conditions for African Americans in the military during this time peiod: segregated units and quarters, no room for advancement, limits to only manual labor and waiting on officers.  At the Port Chicago navy base in California African American sailors loaded ammunition onto ships with no training or proper safety equipment or procedures.  Officers challenged the men to go faster, often betting to see which unit was the quickest, regardless of safety.  Eventually, the worst happened.  A ship blew up and all the men loading the ammunition were killed.  Even some men in the barracks were injured.  Several of the loaders refused to continue their duties until conditions improved.  The navy had the protesters arrested and brought to trial for treason.  They were found guilty and sentenced to long jail time.  New York Civil Rights lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, became aware of the case and kept the trial and its outcomes in the public eye. After many failed attempts at justice, Marshall finally saw that the Port Chicago 50 were released from jail and put out to sea to finish their time with the Navy.  The case was instrumental in desegregating the United States armed forces and, eventually, the rest of the country.

This is for sure a huge year for books about civil rights.  I feel like I have learned more about the civil rights movement in the past year than I have in my previous forty-seven.  It is incredible that the United States armed forces were segregated and so blatantly racist as recently as World War II.  That war is so glorified in our history.  It must have been wonderful to be part of the "greatest generation" as long as you weren't Japanese American, female, or have dark skin.  Sheinkin, as always, offers us an impeccably researched piece of non-fiction, ending with an extensive list of notes, bibliography and index.  The topic is an undiscovered chapter of history, previously never captured in books for young people.  As with Sheinkin's previous writings, this work is highly readable and can be enjoyed for pleasure.  One complaint is that since much of the story involves a court case, the trial was a big part of the book.  I got a little board during the legalese part of the story.  Kids interested in court cases, and they are out there, would find this fascinating.  Most kids won't make it through.  I feel like this story would be better served as a chapter in a book about desegregating the armed forces, instead of the other way around.  I was watching the excellent documentary series by Ken Burns on the Roosevelt's while I was reading this book, which touched on the some of the issues presented concerning discrimination in the armed forces and Eleanor's work to alleviate it.  Her part in the fate of the fifty protesters is touched on in the book.  I love it when my watching and reading overlap!  The Port Chicago 50 is a superbly written and researched piece of non-fiction that is sure to win awards and will fill the bill for non-fiction book reports, but the subject matter may have a hard time speaking to young readers.  Personally, I pick Freedman's Because they Marched as my favorite Civil Rights non-fiction selection of the year.  This month a movie called Selma, dealing with the same subject matter, will be released, generating an easy audience for the Freedman book.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Simon and Schuster, 2012  359 pgs
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction

Aristotle (Ari) is a fifteen-year-old Mexican-American loner growing up in a small town in Texas in the 1980's.   One day, while bored at the pool, he meets a boy named Dante, who offers to teach him how to swim.  Dante is nothing like Ari.  He is outgoing, enthusiastic about life and comfortable in his own skin.  Dante becomes Ari's first friend and the two become inseparable.  When Dante almost gets hit by a car while trying to rescue a bird, Ari pushes him to safety, severely injuring himself in the process.  Dante moves with his family to Chicago for a year and Ari misses him.  He gets a dog, his license, two new sort-of friends, and a really cool truck.  What he really misses during that year besides Dante is a relationship with his father (a Vietnam vet with communication deficiencies) and his brother.  Ari's brother was sent to prison years ago and no one in the family talks about him.  Ari finally must open communication with his parents, even though it is painful for them, to help him fill in the holes of his past.  Dante returns from Chicago and the friendship resumes.  After getting severely beaten for being gay, Dante lands in the hospital.  Ari freaks out and goes after the guys who hurt his friend.  This incident makes Ari question if his own anger management issues are similar to that of his violent brother, as well as the depth and nature of his feelings for Dante.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming of age story.  In parts it is quiet and thoughtful, but never is boring.  The plot moves along and exciting things happen (both main characters land in the hospital at different times for spectacular reasons).  Ari is clearly a different person from beginning to end and we experience his growth right along with him.  We figure out that he is in love with Dante before he does and it is with great relief when he finally gets there.  Both characters are Latino, an underrepresented group in teen fiction, and struggling with cultural identity, although that is not the main focus of the story.  The book is set in the 1980's.  Although the characters don't have personal computers or cell phones and have more leisure time on their hands than today's kids because of it, the story could have been set in the present.  I think the author chose to set the story in the 80's perhaps to reflect his own experience (write what you know) or to demonstrate Ari's reluctance to acknowledge his feelings towards Dante.   Today's kids are more exposed to different sexual orientations and there is less of a social stigma than there was thirty years ago.  Ari's parents were extremely cool and helpful with his discovery of his feelings for Dante, which would be extraordinary for the 1980's.  This book is not for everyone, but is an important book just the same.  The title is a bit deceiving (I thought it had philosophical themes and therefore put off reading it) and it may have a hard time finding its audience.  Aristotle and Dante won a Printz honor and Pure Belpre award for best Latino fiction, both if which it deserved.  Statistically, LGBT teens have a much higher suicide rate than straight teens.  In the news this week a transgender teen stepped in front of a tractor trailer because her parents could not recognize who she was. We need to create a world where our young people feel safe and accepted.  Aristotle and Dante is a step in the right direction.