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Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (4/5)

6 Oct

This is one of those books I felt every WWW Wednesday person had read so I decided to pick it up when I had a break while waiting for World Without End to come back to me. (Maybe I’ll actually get it soon? Maybe?) It had been a long time since I read YA and it was long overdue. I don’t think I can write this entire review without any spoilers so be warned! I’ll try to make note of the biggest ones.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

This book was exactly what I wanted it to be. It was deep but still relatable and the characters felt real. I know there’s been a bit trend toward LGBT YA lit lately and I’m glad this was my first major foray into the genre. I have hope for the rest of the books! Both were well developed and I have one criticism that I’ll save for later that took this book from a Five to a Four for me but overall, I really liked it. The setting in Texas was extra appealing to me. In addition to a coming of age story, the boys were also battling the dual identities they felt as Mexican Americans and first-generation immigrants which added a great layer to the story.

Both boys felt very real to me. I thought their teenage problems and concerns were on par with what I felt at their ages. I thought their character progression made sense and wasn’t forced, especially with the length of time the book covered. The parents were very real to me, too. I liked that Jaime and Sam could be friends even though they were so different.

Dante was my favorite character. If the book was narrated by Dante, Ari would probably be my favorite. I find first person narration to feel a bit whiny so I’m inclined not to like the narrator. Dante was dynamic and unashamed and I liked that about him. I loved that he wasn’t afraid of what anyone would think except his parents. I could relate to that. He was very confident and that made him easy to like, too.

I related to Ari because I remember feeling lost when I was in high school. Granted, I wasn’t battling quite the level of self discovery he was, but there were things about myself I was discovering. Unlike Ari, I fought my parents and I was glad that he and his mother had a good relationship and his relationship with his father improved. He felt lost with women and uncomfortable with his body and undecided on how he felt about breaking the rules. I appreciated that in him.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz Image via

Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Image via

I like how Alire Sáenz handled the year the boys spent apart. They both grew so much in that time apart and it was great for their character development. Dante discovered himself and Ari found things that made him happy and that made him able to connect with his father. I thought the time moved quickly enough without being slow and the character change didn’t seem rushed which was great.

OK, this will be my major spoiler paragraph so skip if you don’t want the end completely ruined. Are you gone? How about now? Good. I thought Ari’s coming out felt really forced. Granted, I’ve never come out, but as a writer, I try to drop more hints about a character’s feelings before a big reveal like that. There were small hints about Ari’s sexuality but never enough that I felt his parents would have guessed he was gay before he did. I think that’s what bothered me most, that his parents more or less told him he was gay. I felt Dante should have if it needed to happen that way.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, the Hamilton guy. I don’t know too much about Miranda or Hamilton, but he did a great job of narrating the audiobook. The voices he used for Ari and Dante were different enough to follow a conversation but not so different that either was annoying. The Spanish was, of course, not forced and it worked really well.

Above all, I think this book was about love and self-acceptance. Ari had to learn to love his parents and accept that he wasn’t going to be his brother. Dante realized that he was gay and that he was already in love and I thought that was beautiful. Ari’s parents had to learn to love Ari without concerning themselves with their elder son all the time. Ari was always compared to Bernardo and once they could stop doing that, their relationship improved dramatically.

Writer’s Takeaway: The best part of this book for me was how relatable it was. It was amazing to read a book that made me think of my childhood growing up as a white Midwestern straight girl when the characters were so different from me. There’s a universality in the coming-of-age experience and Alire Sáenz captured that wonderfully. Now I’m scared for my future books and if I’ll be as relatable.

A great book with some unforgetable characters. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.


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