Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was such an awesome surprise, you guys. WHY HASN’T EVERYONE READ THIS? Every single aspect of this novel blew me away: the writing and characterization are both master level. This will be on my Best of 2013 list in December. Guaranteed.
Before reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I would have happily declared that there ARE no real secrets to the universe. I mean…either believe in Jesus or Stephen Hawking. Also, try not to get hit by a bus (but wear good underwear in case you do). There. Covered. Then I watched Dante and Ari develop over the course of the novel and by the time it was over, I was fully convinced that there are indeed secrets to the universe, and by gosh – these boys are in the process of discovering the answers. That is the power of excellent writing at work, my friends.
Aristotle and Dante meet when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. They quickly develop a friendship that leads them into a lot of questions involving culture, family and sexuality. You basically cover all the big questions relating to adolescence. Another bonus? Seeing them interact with their families was almost as awesome as seeing them together. Every single character introduced in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is glorious.
At first glance, Dante is the more likable of the two characters. His individuality is showcased from the very beginning, and he has a much more open, affectionate and bold personality. Ari is not so good at expressing himself. He struggles a lot with trying to figure out who he is and who he wants to be – that is, in fact, the point of the story. Who are these characters and what are they trying to become?
I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn’t have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. “Dante’s my friend.”
Once I really dug into the story, Ari started growing on me more and more. Just because he couldn’t successfully portray his emotions doesn’t mean he lacked them. I think he actually ended up being my favorite of the two boys (although let it be known that I am besotted with both of them). At one point in the story, he even does something extraordinary and heroic that had me gaping in awe.
Actually, one of my favorite parts of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the ending when Ari owns up to his emotions and is finally confident enough in himself to express them. That actually stuck out to me as the real heroism of the story. Tears were involved.
Concepts ranging from destiny to cultural and sexual identity are all explored beautifully throughout the book and culminate in one of the most powerfully emotional endings..seriously you guys. ALL THE FEELS.
To Sum it Up:
- The writing and characterization both left me awestruck, you guys. Perfection piled on top of perfection.
- The struggles Ari and Dante face in regard to everything from cultural identity to sexual preference are flawlessly executed.
- I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS for this book. Pleasure and wonder and relief. Giggling and crying were both involved.