Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

4 Mar 2018

It feels a bit odd to be posting another book review so soon after my last one, but - spoiler alert - I freaking loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much that I read it in two days, which is the quickest I've read something since All The Bright Places. I first heard of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe when I listened to the Banging Book Club podcast. It seems stupid to listen to them talk about the book before I had read it, but the things that Hannah, Lucy and Leena were saying just intrigued me so much that I had to purchase it. I picked it up straight after I finished The Little Paris Bookshop and barely put it down until I had finished with it. I didn't want to wait any longer to tell you all of my thoughts!

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
The blurb is pretty accurate and gives you a great overview of the story so you know exactly what you're going to be reading. It's a story about two 15-year-old boys, both very different from each other, who meet and develop a friendship that causes them to explore their feelings and beings. It's a true coming of age, YA story set on the border of Texas and Mexico, and the themes that shone through for me were masculinity, sexuality and race. It truly was a gorgeous read that had me turning the pages at the speed of light and I'm going to tell you why!

The way that the characters had been written was something that stood out for me. On one hand, you've got Ari - an angry boy who hides his feelings, dwells a lot upon his brother in prison and how he doesn't want to end up like him, is unwilling to get close to anyone and doesn't understand why he does all of these things. Then we've got Dante - a sweet, highly intelligent boy who tends to over-analyse things, has a very strong, close relationship with his parents and is in touch with his feelings. As you can see by those descriptions, these two people are very different and that makes for a really interesting story. We get to see their personalities conflicting, sometimes in a playful way and in a more negative way at other times, but we also get to see them coming together to complement and teach. We only get to see the story from Ari's perspective, the more moody of the two, so a lot of the time, everything is a bit downplayed, so I would've loved to have maybe seen through Dante's eyes to find out how he perceives certain situations that they were in. They were both amazing main characters and really helped to make the story flow. I became attached to the pair of them, particularly Dante, but I think that's because I related so much to Aristotle and Dante is practically his opposite.

As far as the plot goes, there isn't really anything in the way of massive plot twists or shocking didn't-see-it-coming moments, and that helps to make the book feel all the more real. The thing that makes this YA different to other YA's for me is how realistic the story is. Of course, how you feel about realistic plots depends on what your reality is, but there's no major deaths, no magic powers or anything like that. It's pretty much the day-to-day life of these boys, but written in such a way that it feels poetic or lyrical. Not only was it downright beautiful, it as also written in a very easy-to-read way. The chapters were so short, so if you only had a spare 10 minutes, you could easily get through three chapters (but good luck stopping at three!) and they're very dialogue-heavy, so the story moves along fairly quick. It's so heavy with dialogue, in fact, that at some points, it reads almost like a movie script. Instead of having "bla bla bla" Dante said, "bla bla bla" I said, there are parts where it's just line after line of talking without any indication of whose saying it because there is that much dialogue. This may be annoying to some people, but for me, I loved it!

Of course, the theme that stands out the most in this book is sexuality with both boys experiencing it differently. At first, I expected Dante to be the more reserved one when it came to expressing how he feels, but nope, he was so outspoken and wrote to Ari to tell him that he liked boys. Ari was much more stubborn and was a lot more focused on his masculinity rather than who he was attracted to, and this manifested in the form of his imprisoned brother and his dad, who he can never really seem to connect to. Both of those male figures play a big role in his life, with his anxieties about becoming like his brother and wanting to know what happened to his dad in the war to make him so detached, and I think this is why he turned to fighting. It's a way for him to express his masculinity, especially where he defends Dante, and gives him a chance to 'prove himself' in a way.

If I'm honest, I feel like I've said enough about this book. It's something that I beg you to read and experience, even if any of the things I've said have put you off. It's truly stunning and it's no wonder that it's won so many awards (seriously, you can barely see the front cover because of all the award stickers). It's a book that I can see myself re-reading over and over again, and I've heard that there's a sequel coming out that is written from Dante's perspective which is very exciting!

So if you like LGBTQ+ fiction, YA novels, coming-of-age stories, taking stray dogs home as pets, defined characters or feeling all the feels, this may just be the book for you.

Whould you like to comment?

  1. This book is truly fantastic!! I read it super fast too and had a little cry throughout just because the emotions were depicted so fluently and I felt so connected to the characters. This book actually changed the way that I feel about reading; at one point Alire Saenz wrote 'Whatever happened to reading a book because you liked it?' and I just adore that :) x

    Alice // The Rose Glow

  2. I read the book. Can't get over it! :)
    Love from India!

    - Meghana |

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