Male Monday: Guy Pals

BFFs. Buddies. Besties. Guy pals. Call ‘em what you like, I see a slow going trend in YA of male authors of color writing stories that explore male friendships.

Most often, YA male characters are either loners or involved with a female character, either as a friend or love interest. The following books not only have male characters who are friends, but they explore the friendship and what makes it tick.

Are there others?

Surf Mules by G. Neri (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) When Logan goes searching for the Perfect Monster Wave, he doesn’t expect his former best friend to be killed by it. Add to this a deadbeat dad who bankrupted his family and the possibility of college going down the drain, and Logan is suddenly in a tailspin.510Qq6rUCCL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

So when small-time dealer Broza offers Logan and his dropout pal, Z-boy, a summer job that could make them rich, it seems his problems might be solved. But between Z-boy’s constant screwups, a band of Nazi surfers out for blood, and a mysterious stranger on their tail, Logan is starting to have some serious doubts about hauling contraband across country, and hopes just to make it home alive.

Aristle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Simon and Schuster, 2012) When Aristotle and Dante meet, in the summer of 1987, they are 15-year-olds existing in “the universe between boys and men.” The two are opposites in most ways: Dante is sure of his place in the world, 515h0+SCp4L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_while Ari feels he may never know who he is or what he wants. But both are thoughtful about their feelings and interactions with others, and this title is primarily focused on the back-and-forth in their relationship over the course of a year. Family issues take center stage, as well as issues of Mexican identity, but the heart of the novel is Dante’s openness about his homosexuality and Ari’s suppression of his. Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, 2004) writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other. This moves at a slower pace than many YA novels, but patient readers, and those struggling with their own sexuality, may find it to be a thought-provoking read.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Arthur A. Levine, 2012) Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and 510NQFcGy4L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?

Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers (Amistad, 2013) Darius and Twig are an unlikely pair: Darius is a writer whose only escape is his alter ego, a peregrine falcon named Fury, and Twig is a middle-distance runner striving 51m8s60I+BL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_for athletic success. But they are drawn together in the struggle to overcome the obstacles that Harlem life throws at them.

The two friends must face down bullies, an abusive uncle, and the idea that they’ll be stuck in the same place forever in this touching and raw new teen novel from Walter Dean Myers, award-winning author of Monster, Kick, We Are America, Bad Boy, and many other celebrated literary works for children and teens.

Male Tuesday

2-4 April, Forever My Lady by Jeff Rivera is free to download on Amazon. Please take the time to download it. Please!! Take the time to download and have your friends download it, too! You don’t have to have a Kindle or plan to read the book. You do have to take the time to show your support for books by Latinos. Download free here.

A synopsis of the book from Amazon:

Dio Rodriguez grew up on the streets and knew all too well the hard, cool feeling of the barrel of a gun tucked down the back of his jeans. But his hard exterior softened when he met Jennifer. Jennifer understands Dio like no one else and makes him want to be a better man. Suddenly a drive-by shooting lands Dio in a prison boot camp and sends Jennifer to the hospital. When Dio learns that Jennifer is pregnant, he realizes that he must find a way to turn his life around and return to his lady. But can trainee Rodriguez get his act together among the hardcases in prison? And will Jennifer be waiting for him if and when he does?

Literature by authors of color is definitely worth supporting. Have you read any of Benjamin Alire Saenz’s books yet? His YA novels include Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Last Night I Sang to the Monster and Aristotle and Donte Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I loved Aristotle and Dante and was not surprised after it won so many awards at ALA Midwinter. I was able to speak with Saenz at ALAN last November and when our conversation was done, he actually offered me the copy of Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club which he had been carrying with him. I should have had him autograph it.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz has been awarded the prestigious 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his book Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club!The PEN/Faulkner Award is America’s largest peer-juriedImageProxy.mvc prize for fiction, and past winners have included Phillip Roth, Sherman Alexie, John Updike, Julie Otsuka, Ha Jin and others. As winner, Sáenz receives $15,000. Each of the four finalists—Amelia Gray for Threats (FSG); Laird Hunt for Kind One (Coffee House); T. Geronimo Johnson for Hold It ‘Til It Hurts (Coffee House); and, Thomas Mallon for Watergate (Pantheon)—receives $5,000. Sáenz is the first Mexican-American and the first Texan to win the award. It’s been 15 years since a small press published a PEN/Faulkner Award Winner. Cinco Puntos is wonderfully happy for Ben and extremely proud to have published his book.
Read more about the award in the El Paso Times.

(quoted from email from Cinco Puntos Press)

Yes, I should have had it autographed!!










book review: Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." ~Aristotle

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." ~Aristotle

title: Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe

author: Benjamin Alire Saenz

date: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers; Feb, 2012

main character: Angel Aristotle Mendoza

RL: 3.9

Aristotle and Dante Discover the secrets of the universe is a philosophical tale of two boys coming of age. Ari and Dante meet one summer at a local swimming pool and while they quickly and easily become friends, they both also are caught up on their perceived aloneness. Both boys have been given a strong moral foundation by their families, delivering the groundwork of rules and order that Aristotle (the philosopher) believed were necessary for humans to attain reason.

Ari has no friends and is often unwilling or unable to talk about things that really are important to him. While it’s easy to explain his lack of articulation through his father, it would be more accurate to simply realize that this 15 year is still a boy who is lacking the ability to reason out and explain why he does what he does. It’s his mother, a teacher, who pulls him out. Watching his transition to adulthood is not easy as we’re taken through what feels like hell to him.

Dante, who also has no friends, wants to connect to his Mexican heritage. He actually admits to liking his parents, a true rarity in YA fiction. He is fascinated with birds and hates shoes. Such keen imagery is  straight from Purgatorio, as is the importance of art as a reproduction of nature; water and rain; Dante’s laughter; Ari’s fever and more.

A crucial scene in the story is when Ari’s legs are broken in a tragic car accident. There’s a discussion in the hospital with a doctor that relates to readers the Aristotelian concept that no part can ever be well unless the whole is well. As the bones begin healing, we see relationships begin the slow process of healing as well.

One small, small thing I couldn’t understand in the story is why Dante’s family, when returning from Chicago to El Paso decided to drive through Washington D.C. Do the geography: it doesn’t quite make sense.

And the universe? Together and alone, the boys explore and discover mind altering substances, girls, artists, poets, work, pain and friendship.  Aristotle, in his scientifically ordered mind described three types of friendship. I think when Ari and Dante developed their friendship, they realized a fourth level that even these two great philosophers missed.

Saenz builds his story around ancient philosophers without weighing it down. Rather, he craftily builds layer upon layer of meaning to the story. Our characters, Dante and Ari, read like two 15-year-old boys who are at the end of the purest of times for boys: they can like their parents, verbally express whatever comes to their mind, touch and even wonder. They meet at a swimming pool and take the plunge into growing up.

To course across more kindly waters now
my talent’s little vessel lifts her sails,
leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;
and what I sing will be that of the second kingdom,
in which the human soul is cleansed of sin,
becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven.


There is no better pairing for this book that Dante’s Inferno. eHow offers several ways to ‘get through’ Inferno including a photo essay, movie, audio lecture which analyzes the poem and even an online reading of the poem itself. If you really want to excite students (or yourself!) about the works of Dante Alighieri, then play Dante’s Inferno the video game.

Benjamin Alire Saenz was born in 1954 in Old Picacho, a small farming village outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, forty-two miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. He was the fourth of seven children and was brought up in a traditional Mexican-American Catholic family. Saenz  is an award winning poet, writer, professor and painter. His previous young adult works include Sammy and Juliano in Hollywood ( ALA 2009  Outstanding Book for College Bound Students); Last night I sang to the monster and He forgot to say good-bye.

book review: He forgot to say goodbye

book review:  He forgot to say goodbye
author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
date: 2008, Simon and Schuster
main characters: Ramiro Lopez and Jake Upthegrove

If I just said this is a superbly wonderful book would you rush out and buy it?

He forgot will remain one of my all time favorites. This review, probably not so good! I just don’t want to mess up Saenz’s story by telling incomplete parts, retold parts. The books is just too good for me to mess it up like that!

How did Saenz manage to tell a story that amazed me so well? I’d say he’s not a writer. I know he’s a poet.

I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, “To the Desert” from Dark and Perfect (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 1995).

And he’s a storyteller.

Saenz grew up speaking Spanish and only later learn English. In learning the language, not just carelessly picking it up, I think he honed it, learning to use it with precision and skill, words like ‘destroyed’ ‘effin’ and ‘achin elbow’ will stay with you when the story is long gone.

Saenz writes about two boys who don’t know their fathers. It’s easy for women, for me, to simply look at the events of the story: one boy learning to trust himself while another learns to respect his mother. But this is really a story of two boys finding a way to accept their fathers, their disappeared fathers. Things start a bit slow as it took a while getting into the rhythm of the writing, but you realize Saenz is writing with a wit and an intelligence not always found in YA literature. These two guys, Ram and Jake, you like them more as you get to know them better. But, Alejandra? Definitely my favorite character!

I walked Alejandra to the car. I got that hint from my mom. You know, I got one of those looks. So I walked her out. “Thanks, ” I said. “You’re really decent.”
She smiled at me. “That’s a pretty good compliment. Coming from you, I mean.”
“Yeah, well, it’s true. You’re really decent.”
“But am I pretty?”
She always went fishing, that Alejandra.
“You’ve always been pretty. And you’ve always known that. I don’t know why you need me to tell you that.”
She laughed. “Figure it out.”
I grinned.
She noticed–but see, I didn’t say anything.
Not quite convinced? Ram’s no good father, the one who he’s never seen? Well, when something tragic happens to Ram’s brother, he has to talk to his dad. You cannot imagine what his dad says!

disclaimer: This book was a Christmas give from Susan.