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

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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.

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, GLBT, Realistic Fiction 

Cover: This cover is beautifully pieced together. Both sides of the cover describe subtly both characters perfectly and I really enjoy looking at this artwork that is simple yet somehow conveys the whole book perfectly. 

My Thoughts: This story is centered around a Mexican-American teenager named Aristotle, or Ari, who can’t seem to find himself. He has pent up anger over his father who won’t open up to him after he came home from the Vietnam War. Ari’s frustration also comes from his confusion to why his parents refuse to speak about his older brother who is in jail for a crime he doesn’t know about. During the summer one day, Aristotle meets a boy named Dante who teaches him the secrets of the universe over the course of the story. Their friendship easily buds and they both connect with their shared heritage and their unique perspective on life. While Dante is an incredibly positive person who can make friends within seconds, Ari can’t see past the cloud of darkness over him caused by his thoughts about his sibling and father. 

One important factor that shapes the two main characters is their parents. They both give useful advice to the teens who don’t have many true friends and are in need of companionship. The parents pose as a very supportive characters that helped the boys who struggled to find who they really were in their years in high school. I really enjoyed the banter between Ari and his mother who continually promised things would get better for him over time. Ari and Dante both need their parents which helps shape their personalities into the perceptive and understanding people they are.

As both boys become more comfortable with each other, Aristotle discovers his lack of trust thanks to his father who also refuses to open up and share his secrets about the war he was in. Ari also has trouble divulging with Dante who is practically an open book for the world to read. One interesting thing about this book was Aristotle’s lack of narrative in the beginning of the story considering he was closed in on himself, but as the story progressed, his thoughts came out and he basically opened up to the reader as well over time.

This isn’t just a book about two boys discovering that they are truly different in the way they look at the world or in the way they love people. This is a story about two boys accepting their ethnicity and how they don’t need to fit in with the other teens in their town. They learn that reading poetry, stargazing in the desert at night, and saving the lives of even the smallest of animals were things they love to do. They don’t hide their true personalities and interests from the world, they face it head on. This is a story about a boy controlling his frustrations all while coming to terms with his father and his absent brother. This book shows characters accepting themselves and others for who they really are.

I didn’t imagine to connect with this book so much. I expected a story about a boy learning he was, in fact, different with the help from his best friend. I did not expect to relate to the characters so deeply in their anger, interests, values, and pasts. Aristotle, Dante, and their parents each provided something memorable to this book that impacted me in a large way. It showed the effects of people bullying people for straying from the norm, and those scenes portrayed in the book really related to me in ways I could never describe. Although the writing is simplistic and straight to the point, it changed my view on the little things in life you have to appreciate. I thoroughly enjoyed this entire novel for its message to readers along with its characters and plot considering there aren’t many books out there embracing people’s diverse interests and accepting who you are without caring about the opinions of others. I highly recommend this novel to everyone considering we are all unique and this story can relate to anyone who has ever felt like an outcast at one point in life.

Rating: ★★★★★

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