Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Spoiler-Free)

I’ve tried hard not to give anything away in this review as I believe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the kind of book every reader must experience for themselves. I wasn’t even sure of writing this review but I want everyone who reads the following to at least consider buying and reading this very special book.


The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.

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Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Year of Publishing: 2012

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, LGBT

Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5

My Rating: 5/5

I got to Aristotle and Dante’s party a little late; this book has been receiving praise from all corners of the literary world for a couple of years now, including the blogosphere, ever since it came out three years ago – most notably receiving the Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honour, Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for Latino fiction, and Michael L. Printz Award honour for Young Adult fiction (copied off Wikipedia). With all the hype and praise surrounding the book, I was worried that I was setting the bar too high and that it would turn out to be just another recycled teenage love-triangle drama, written purely to cash in on a movie deal in a year or two. As more and more booktubers and critics started to rave about the author’s beautiful writing, the flow of the novel and an amazing ending, I decided to put aside my assumptions and actually read the book.  By the time I flipped over to the last page, all I could think to myself was, “this book is genius!”

Writing a synopsis for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is nearly impossible as there is very little in terms of ‘action’ in its 350+ pages. Simply put, it is the story of two friends, Aristotle and Dante, who first meet at the age of fifteen, at the swimming pool in the summer. Ari just floats around as he doesn’t know how to swim, and Dante offers to teach him. Soon enough, they become best friends in their own, strange little way. Apart from the fact that they both are Mexican-Americans in El Paso, Texas, there is very little in common between the teenage boys. Angel Aristotle Mendoza or Ari is the narrator and the readers join him and Dante on a roller-coaster ride as the two boys come-of-age through everyday struggles and experiences.

What sets this book apart from most in the YA genre is the strong presence of family. Both Ari and Dante have well-defined parents, each with their own characteristics and mannerisms. We don’t get to learn a lot about Ari’s sisters, but that has to do with the lack of importance Ari gives them in his life. Also, there are no perfect characters, there’s no one who can magically save the day or make everything alright. There’s a struggle in everyone’s life, the young boys and their parents, and you can see it, behind their smiles, kisses and conversations. They are human, just like us – the readers.

There is no need for any special control over the English language to read this book; it might even bother you in the early chapters, as it bothered me. However, as I read on, I realized that I was reading young Ari’s thoughts and interactions; Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel was far away in the distance. The prose grows with the boys, maturing and improving just as you would expect teenagers to. There aren’t many compound sentences or large words in this book, and every word is important to every sentence. The shortest sentence has the ability to bring out the strongest of emotion. It is poetry.

Part of me wishes that I could’ve read this book when I was the same age as the main characters. They are both so different: You will fall in love with Ari’s acceptance of solitude, in a way, loneliness; Dante’s quirky nature and love of life is a breath of fresh air, yet they fit together like peas in a pod. Every time the boys would call each other weird and every moment they spent together talking about the most mundane things – it felt like I was there, experiencing their friendship and their bond.

The best part about this book is that you can read it twice, thrice or a dozen times and it will still get you; it will still rock your emotions and make you feel things for these people and families who now firmly exist in your life forever.

Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.


 

This was my first attempt at reviewing anything at all. I chose a book that is very fresh in my mind even though I read it 3-4 months ago, simply because of how much I love it and how good it is. Hope I did it justice!

 

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