Review: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: 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.

Review: What a beautiful story! I devoured the book in just two days and had quite a bit of trouble putting it down when I had to go to class.

One interesting aspect of the story is that it’s set in Texas in the late 1980’s, when homosexuality was obviously not as accepted as it is nowadays. With that setting and two Mexican-American families as the main cast, this is a refreshing difference from many young adult stories. It also gives a lot of room for the main characters Ari and Dante to question their identities from their sexuality to their heritage to their personality. This is something everyone of every background can relate to.

I really resonated with Ari’s character. Throughout the book he mentions that he feels uncomfortable when people talk about sex and masturbation when it’s such a normal topic for everyone else. As someone who identifies as asexual, I certainly relate to this feeling. He also mentions in several points in the story that he struggles with his body changing as puberty really starts to take over, which is a common challenge for every young person, but I find this especially prevalent in the LGBT+ community. Finally, being only fifteen years old at the beginning of the book, he doesn’t know what type of person he is. Is he a bad boy? Is he nice? He has no clue what his own personality is, and I feel like this is something many of us go through at this point of our lives. Ari is the all-too-common depiction of a high schooler who has no idea what his life will bring or what he wants out of it.

Dante is the friend that seems to have their life figured out and know exactly who they are, but the more time you spend with them, the more you realize they have their own issues too. One of the reasons Ari, and surely the readers as well, is captivated by Dante from the start is because he is so confident in his abilities. After a while we find that he is insecure with his identity as a Mexican-American, because he doesn’t feel “Mexican enough”. This is a much needed addition to his character.

Not only do these boys struggle with their identities inside themselves but the parts of their identities that involve others. While in Chicago, Dante writes in letters to Ari that he’s been kissing girls at parties but that he thinks he’d rather be kissing boys. While back home in El Paso, Ari is kissing a girl who eventually is revealed to have been playing him. He also wonders what his relationship with Gina and Susie is because he doesn’t think he likes them, it’s more like he tolerates them. However, he spends quite a lot of time with the two, so I think it’s fair to say that he has friends in the girls. He just doesn’t know how to handle the idea of any type of relationship.

By the end of the book, which spans a little over a year, Ari and Dante have both done their fair share of reflecting on who they are and appear to be well on their way to figuring out the secrets of the universe and the secrets of themselves. Or maybe they’re just on their way to learning that they will never understand everything, and that’s okay.

Final thought: Please read this book. It’s an amazing diverse story that anyone can relate to in some way or another. I’m mad at myself for not getting to this book sooner, so don’t make the same mistake as I did. Go out and find a copy of this fantastic book!

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