Book Review # 18: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Number of Pages: 368
Date Published: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
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.
Hello, 5 stars. It’s been a while. I have 286 notes on this book. That’s got to be a record right? I’ll cut to the chase. I love this book more than any coming-of-age novel I’ve read. I probably love it more than any young adult novel I’ve read, not that they’re very comparable, but you get my drift.
A bit of background: Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza, 15, questions a lot of things. He treats everything as mysteries – his parents, his brother, his own body, the world. He feels a multitude of emotions which he himself finds difficult to acknowledge. He finds peace in solitude and thinks the mere act of socializing is bothersome. Then he meets Dante – Dante who knows a lot of things, Dante who confesses that he’s crazy about his parents, Dante who does not fear anything, and Dante who is outspoken, and transparent, and alive.
From this meeting springs forth a tale of honest friendship and identity. What must one do to understand a world full of complexities? Listen to Aristotle and Dante’s voices as they seek to find the answers to their questions. Their mission: to uncover the secrets of the universe, or in this case, their universe. But is there really an answer for everything?
I have hopelessly fallen in love with this book due to the following reasons
Superior storytelling: It seems almost plot-less but the events and discoveries run fluidly from one page to another. Before you know it, the characters are all grown up and even then, the pondering does not cease. You’ll drown in words and emotions, most of which might leave you feeling hollow rather than pretty, but believe me, everything – may it be plain thoughts or events – will be worth all your hollowness, if you could even call it that.
The writing? perfection: Ari’s voice is filled with depth and emotion. It compels you to listen. His voice is so powerful that you won’t be able to just read over them. You’ll think about them deeply. What makes this boy think this way? Why? What’s behind all those dreams? The writing is so beautiful that it makes you wish the words were your own.
But the worst part was that those words were living inside me. And they were leaking out of me. Words were not things you could control. Not always.
The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.
There’s an answer for everything: Each circumstance, each conversation, the changes in scenery – everything is a key to unlocking the true secret of the universe. It is only after reading the entire book that you’ll learn to appreciate all the subtle symbolism and hidden meanings of thoughts that give birth to unforeseen dreams and actions. You’ll be forced to go through a thought process and it will be (surprisingly) enjoyable.
The narration is pure, innocent, and raw: I’ve never read a novel that bursts with such raw emotions as this one. One cannot help but compare this book with other coming-of age-novels, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Someday this Pain will be Useful to You to name a few, but this book goes beyond the traditional style of exploring thoughts and feelings. The unfolding of identities and answers is so natural that one might mull over the possibility of a true-to-life story.
This book knew what to do with its characters: There are only a significant few and they are all undeniably well-developed. Nobody, and I mean, nobody, is singled out. I loved every single one of them. Is there any chance I could maybe be adopted into Ari or Dante’s family?
It’s overflowing with relatable and charismatic feelings and thoughts: It’s more than the transformation of a 15-year old boy. It dwells on humanness and it just reaches out to you. It tells you about a lot of things – denial, running away from our fears, what it means to have a family, loneliness and solitude, the struggle to understand life, the tragedy of feeling pain and not knowing where it comes from, the beauty of deep friendship, and the beauty of what comes after finding yourself.
I can still name 5, 10, 20 more reasons for loving this book but even after doing that I doubt I could give this book the justice (well, a more persuasive review that is) it deserves. As early as now, I’m declaring this book as my favorite coming-of-age novel of the year. What more can I say? This book is everything I’ve ever wanted to read. It’s going to my loved shelf. I’m very happy.
Note (don’t read if you don’t want ANY hints): This book is classified under the LGBT genre (hardly a spoiler. I’m not giving anything away). So fans of Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, The Perks of being a Wallflower, and Someday this Pain will be Useful to You, be careful. This book will steal your heart.
Trivia: This book garnered the following awards:
Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2013), Michael L. Printz Award Nominee (2013), Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult (2013), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis Nominee for Jugendbuch (2015), Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (ALAN/NCTE) Nominee (2013) Pura Belpré Award for Narrative (2013) .
Favorite Quotes from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Words were different when they lived inside of you.
To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.
I hated being volunteered. The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.
We all fight our own private wars.
It was good to laugh. I wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh until I laughed myself into becoming someone else.
I don’t always have to understand the people I love.