Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre: Fiction, YA, LGBTQ, romance
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Aristotle and Dante couldn’t be more different. Aristotle is an angry young man whose brother is in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who doesn’t easily go with the flow. What the two teenagers have in common, however, is that they’re both loners who don’t really fit in anywhere. Despite their differences they spend more and more time in each other’s company and eventually develop a unique friendship. It’s the kind of friendship that will help them discover the truths about themselves and maybe also help them find what they’re looking for.
“I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”
– Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Sometimes YA-books in particular are very hard to get into for me, but every once in a while a little gem of a book such as this one comes along. This is in many ways a light read, it’s not overly complex in its writing style and you’ll easily breeze through the chapters once you start reading. At the same time it’s beautifully written. Some of the passages in this are gorgeous and have an almost airy feel to them in the way they flow. It’s atmospheric in a simple but beautiful way.
The book doesn’t really have a clear “plot” as I see it, but we follow a coming-of-age story in which we learn how the relationship between Ari and Dante unfolds and develops. Throughout the story you’ll easily recognize several major themes that apply to the boys’ lives, such as identity (especially Mexican-American identity), sexuality, and gender roles. In addition to this the book also tackles family relationships and dynamics. The characterizations are very distinctly different between Ari and Dante, so contrasting it’s almost too obvious in a way, but as characters they do compliment each other well. Ari’s emotions can easily be found relatable. His confusion and frustration, his anger and suppressed desperation in wanting to be closer to his father and getting to know more about his imprisoned brother is well-written and made me sympathize with him, even though his sour mood could get on my nerves sometimes (and maybe it was supposed to). Dante is more of a dreamer and an intellectual type, a boy that is both wise beyond his years and clueless as to who he really is, and he too makes a character that I can see people relate to.
While I do love the writing, the prose becomes so poetic and philosophical at times that it actually gets in the way of the dialogue, which is the reason why I’m redacting a star. Maybe it’s just me, but frequently using a character’s name when talking to them sounds very repetitive in my ears and at times it gets a little annoying. I realize that some people actually tend to do this and that it does create a certain intimacy, but seeing it written like this halts the dialogue more than it helps it. The end result is that it doesn’t always sound particularly realistic, and the interaction becomes rather an exchange of poetic words and sentences than an actual interaction.
All in all though I still find this book beautiful. It’s a deep, emotional, and important story that gets into a range of topics that I believe many can relate to, and it’s a huge plus that the protagonists are such untraditional characters. It’s the kind of story that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and that had me rooting for the main characters from the get-go, and I’m very interested in seeing what journey they’ll be taking in the sequel.
Author information on Goodreads: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Link to book on Goodreads: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Link to review on Instagram: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe review