A Tale of Two Books

Completely by coincidence, I read two books this month with remarkably similar set-ups – coming-of-age male LGBTQ characters – back to back. Neither book had really been on my radar, either: I picked up Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe at a bookstore after getting shamed at book club for not having read it, and the next day decided to pull More Happy Than Not from my local library without really looking at its plot.

I finished Aristotle first, delighting in its simple but beautiful language and the relatively straightforward set-up of two teenage boys and best friends discovering their feelings for each other (I also loved the secondary plot of these boys being Mexican in a 1980s Texas border town and what that means for their lives and life journeys). The cover alone is also incredibly gorgeous, may I say. Diving into More Happy Than Not, I was surprised (although not upset) when I discovered it was going to be remarkably similar – a teenage boy discovering his feelings for his male best friend. Even its setting in modern-day New York, with a Latino protagonist, allowed for similar motifs to float through.

But then… the *TWIST* in More Happy Than Not occurs, and I was COMPLETELY gobsmacked. It’s hinted in the summary – which I had ignored – but it really takes the book in a different sci-fi direction.

WHAT I READ:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Sáenz) and More Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 coming-of-age stories, I give Aristotle 5 Texas summers and More Happy 5 mysterious neurological procedures.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

More Happy Than Not:

In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:

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.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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In short, even though these books seem to be very similar, they take off in wildly different directions – and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Must-adds to your reading list.

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Cheating on #TheNext100

Call this “the first 98” or whatever, but I have to admit up front that this is not, in fact, a kickoff to the next 100 books I’m going to read this year. In fact, this is Book #98 I read this year, and I KNOW, I KNOW, I promised that I would start getting cutthroat once I hit that magical number of 100. What can I say? I was:

a) Impatient to get going on this

b) Afraid that my 100th book and my kickoff would be some lame-o book

So I’m cheating a bit. What are you going to do, arrest me?

WHAT I READ:

Some Kind of Happiness (Claire Legrand)

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HOT TAKE, ON A TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC SCALE:

On a scale of Trump to Trudeau, this book is a sizzlin’, Tim Hortons-drinking, hockey-loving, hunk of a Prime Minister.

WHY I READ IT:

Book club, baby! The last couple of books we read were duds, so I was pleased to have loved this one so dearly.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Even before the book officially starts, it opens with the best dedication:

If you are afraid, sad, tired, or lonely; if you feel lost or strange; if you crave stories and adventure, and the magic possibility of a forest path – this book is for you.

I mean. You guys. I just love that. Immediate warm fuzzies.

The book opens with an excerpt from the narrator Finley’s fantasy novel about Everwood, a magical forest home to “astonishing creatures and peculiar, solitary people.” Finley writes about Everwood throughout the book and these fantasy excerpts are sprinkled throughout; normally I hate that (I truly hated that in Fangirl, one of my favorite books), but in this instance it really helps to add some color to Finley’s lines.

You quickly find out that Finley is going to be spending the summer with her paternal grandparents (and her aunts and cousins, who live nearby), all of whom she has never met as her father is mysteriously estranged from them. She is immediately overwhelmed when she sees their home (Hart House) and struggles to understand what the unspoken rules of the house and the family are. She tries to fit in, but finds herself on her first night waking up “sweating and pinned to [her] bed in terror,” unable to make the terrible and anxious thoughts in her head stop. In an attempt to calm herself, she starts to explore her grandparents’ yard; that is when she discovers their backyard is Everwood.*

(Note: Not actually Everwood, but still a cool forest).

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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NEED MORE?

In case you didn’t get everything you needed to know from my highly well-written and literary post, may I direct you to more flailing at my Goodreads.

In short, this book is a mature Middle Grade exploration of mental health (particularly depression and anxiety), family dynamics, and the power of imagination. It meant quite a lot to me as a formerly anxious kiddo and a currently anxiety-prone adult, and the writing was, quite simply, magical.

P.S. I just finished Book #100 (Noughts and Crosses) and it turned out to be a good one! Quite thought provoking. So, keep an eye out for Book #101 and the legit kickoff of #thenext100 coming up soon!