Round 1 - The Notebook vs. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe

Round 1 - The Notebook vs. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe

Blog post by Debbie
Thursday, February 2, 2017

The two selections I was given are books that I had never read before and ones that I would not normally read: The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks  and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. For my personal expectations, a tale of heartbreak features two characters in love who are suddenly separated by some terrible circumstance and the pain that results. Both of these titles served that definition in slightly different ways.

The Notebook
Honestly, I was pretty prejudiced against Sparks when I started reading for being emotionally manipulative and saccharine-filled. Don’t get me wrong, I cry at commercials and movies sometimes like the sappiest sap, but I don’t look for it in my reading life. Wanting to give it a fair chance, I read the description in the catalog and I felt hopeful because it has history (the 1940s) and the potential of conflict in different social classes and disapproving parents.

As far as our broken-heart theme, this book delivers; however, it is not the broken heart of romance gone wrong, but of time and memory lost. The book begins with an old man and woman in a nursing home, then flashes back to the story of a couple (the man is reading to the woman) who are reunited after a long separation as she is about to marry another man. The focus of the narrative turns from this conflict very quickly to focus back on the elderly couple (who are the couple of the story, of course) as they look back on their time together. 

The book is well-enough written, but ultimately the characters were flat and the plot did not carry me along because there is no conflict. I was expecting more of a traditional story of falling in love and its complications so, I found myself not as engaged. However, I can see how this sort of story could be appealing to so many readers.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
I didn’t know anything about this book or its author aside from the fact that it has appeared on recommendation lists for teen LGTB fiction. When I told some of my co-workers that I was reading it, they all enthusiastically endorsed it. I figured that was a good sign.

In this book, the heartbreak is of a friendship tested and of family trauma and secrets kept. Set in El Paso, Texas during the 1980s, the main character is trying to figure out who he is while negotiating new relationships with family and friends. Aristotle (Ari) is a likeable but angry character; he is dealing with a lot of anger and sadness over his relationship with his father and his older brother in prison. The narrative follows Aristotle and Dante as they develop a friendship over the course of a year.  

As with The Notebook, I thought that this book was well written, but this time the characters were much more fleshed out. I appreciate that this author went with such an untraditional but approachable story for young adults. It is a really sweet story but avoids the “after-school special” vibe.

While The Notebook contains more traditional heartbreak, I choose Aristotle and Dante.