Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 21st 2012
This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distils 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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
I only discovered Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe recently. Despite the book having been out for years already I hadn’t seen it around until a few months ago when suddenly it seemed to be everywhere; probably because of the news of the second book being released. Now I have finished Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I am among those people who cannot wait for the second book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming of age novel set in the 1980’s. Ari is fifteen years old and it’s the start of summer, he has no plans until one day at the swimming pool he meets Dante. Despite being a loner and happy on his own Ari becomes fast friends with Dante; they spend all their time together over the summer, swimming, making up their own games, talking about anything and everything. Their friendship is forged over that one summer but even as Dante’s family moves away and Ari goes back to school the two stay close. As Ari struggles to deal with the shadow his brother casts over his family and Dante deals with his sexuality, as the two seem to travel different paths, they stay the best of friends.
There’s not much else I can say about the plot without risking spoilers for certain aspects. There isn’t really a singular event that the story focuses on, no clear beginning middle or end. Instead the plot is the journey Ari and Dante take, both together and alone.
Aristotle is a loner and he’s happy that way. However he doesn’t feel free to be himself, with his brother in prison and his family refusing to even speak his name Ari feels the shadow that his brother casts over his life. He has to be careful of how he speaks and acts because of how what his brother did could reflect on himself. Ari is a curious character, he soaks in everything Dante tells him and more than that he is desperate to know more about his brother. There are no photos or anyone he can even ask to satisfy his curiosity.
We don’t get to see much of Ari’s family outside of his parents but the connection he has with both his mum and his dad felt real and well developed. His relationship with his dad felt distinct and tense at times. After fighting in the Vietnam war Ari’s father is haunted by what he did and saw there, but there are a lot of things that Ari goes through in this book that his father can help him with. It’s refreshing in a young adult novel to see characters who have good relationships with their parents; Ari talks to his mum and dad, when he screws up they punish him but they also support him through every decision he makes.
Dante, like Ari, is also a loner but he seems much more open. He is a sensitive boy, incredibly smart and incredibly curious, but like Ari he feels lost sometimes. For Dante it’s because he doesn’t feel like he really has any claim to his Mexican heritage. For the most part Dante is very comfortable about who he is; he is openly gay, admits his feelings, and there doesn’t seem to be anything he won’t talk about. However there are still things that he fears. He doesn’t want to lose his best friend because of his sexuality but he refuses to hide who he is.
I really loved Dante. He had such a unique way of looking at the world and it shone through in every interaction Ari had with him. He helps Ari to see the world in a different way and he makes Ari braver in his own way as well, brave enough to question what he wants.
The relationship between Dante and Ari is not an easy one, but it felt real. The two have their ups and downs; they fight and resent each other at times but when it comes down to it they always go back to one another. Dante makes Ari see the world in a different way, and Ari becomes protective of Dante, standing by him even when times are tough. The two are very different but in the ways that matter they are both the same.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is set in Texas in the 1980’s but honestly the setting doesn’t make much of a difference in this book. As two Mexicans living in America both Ari and Dante struggle with their heritage and their identity. Dante is a firm believer that he isn’t a real Mexican, whereas Ari seems to embrace his heritage more. However other than each of the character’s heritage the Mexican aspect isn’t really explored much. Don’t get me wrong I loved this book, and I have no complaints about the setting, it just wasn’t a big aspect in this book because it didn’t need to be. Everything that happened, the character development of Ari and Dante and the journey they took, was the centre of the story. Everything else came in second because it wasn’t needed to advance the story.
There are so many amazing reviews for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I was really excited to finally start reading this book. Luckily it more than lived up to the hype. Ari and Dante is a great story with an amazing array of characters you can’t help but love who undertake such an incredibly journey together. Honestly it’s impossible not to love this book.
What did you think of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.