Title:Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Amazon: Buy Link Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Commended)
Genre: gay YA
Length: 370 pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Summary: One of the most beautiful YA books I have ever read
This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.
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.
“ONE SUMMER NIGHT I FELL ASLEEP, HOPING THE WORLD would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in through my open window.”
I wanted to review this book for quite some time now, way before it won LAMBDA for children/young adults. I was just really worried that I won’t be able to do it justice and I still worry about that even as I type my review. The only prerequisite for reading this book is that you have to like YA stories. It does not have sex scenes, but I would not call it kids’ book, even though publisher’s reading level is listed as Grade seven and up. I would say it is YA coming of age with a love story thrown in. Yes, even with Ari being so clueless for so long, I think love between these two boys is present on every page of the book.
If I wanted to write a one sentence review, I would probably have said that this book sang to me. The language is lyrical, the gentle, touching exploration of two teenagers figuring out who they are and trying to figure out all the mysteries in the universe.
Fifteen year old Ari narrates the story and the story is probably takes place during year and a half, because it does go till the guys are almost seventeen or seventeen. I was not exactly sure.
Ari does produce sometimes funny, sometimes eye rolling examples of teenage angst, but this was the kind of angst that made me want to hug him instead of shake him. Yes, some of his worries are purely in his head, some are very real, some just require him to develop higher level of self awareness. However at times Ari does show the moments of self awareness like this one. I think I am just more forgiving of teenage angst, because I think that this is the time when you should be allowed to do that to a certain degree, if that makes sense.
“ As their voices ended I started feeling sorry for myself. Feeling sorry for myself was an art. I think a part of me liked doing that. Maybe it had something to do with my birth order. You know , I think that was part of it. I didn’t like the fact that I was a pseudo only child. I didn’t know how else to think of myself. I was an only child without actually being one. That sucked.”
Of course he was being adorably clueless as to how he felt about Dante for the vast majority of the book, but I thought it worked perfectly for this specific scenario. It was not even that he was an unreliable narrator, because he would describe with raw honestly how he felt and would just fail to make that one logical step and call it love rather than a deep friendship which they also shared.
“He was funny and focused and fierce. I mean the guy could be fierce. And there wasn’t anything mean about him. I didn’t understand how you could live in a mean world and not have any of that meanness rub off to you. How could a guy live without some meanness?”
The blurb talks about Ari and Dante having almost nothing in common. I am not sure whether that’s entirely true. Yes, Dante is more self-aware as to whom he attracted to sexually, yes, Dante seemed more fragile at first. Yes, Ari seemed tougher in the fights.
But it is funny how the more story unraveled, the more they seemed to have in common. Dante was extremely intelligent, his father called him an intellectual and that was of course true. But Ari was also very intelligent, one just have to be a bit more careful and pay attention to Ari’s remarks about the books he read only because Dante read them? Or his dad liked it? Only Ari seemed to like it too. And he liked poetry, and he knew what “ecotone” was. And we could see that Ari had plenty of his own fragility hidden not so deeply in him, and Dante would not run away in a fight, no matter what it would cost him.
These boys struggle with what being Mexican meant for both of them, for their parents. While their identities are not mine, I could absolutely relate to them trying to understand to what nation they belong and what that means to them. I did not feel that the book was ever preachy on this subject or any other. Everything was portrayed with such a delicate touch. The book Dante gives to Ari’s parents suddenly becomes a reason for Ari to find out that his father studied art before he went to the Army. Boys’ conversation Speaking about parents – it was lovely to see the families who love their kids, who would not abandon them no matter what.
“I’m crazy about my mom and dad.” That really made me smile. I’d never heard anyone say that about their parents. I mean, no one was crazy about their parents. Except Dante”.
Funny, Ari did not seem to feel anything less than love for his parents too. That did not mean that they did not have problems. Ari and his father had some communication problems which made sense to me, but I was happy that the significant improvement seemed to be achieved closer to the end of the story.
“Okay, I knew when I opened my eyes, they would still be there. Dante and I were cursed with the parents who cared. Why couldn’t they just leave us alone? What ever happened to parents who were too busy or too selfish or just didn’t give a shit about what their sons did?”
This book for me was a thing of beauty and I highly recommend it to everybody.