Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
* * * * * Stars (Amazing!)
Aristotle Mendoza is angry. At 15 years old, his older brother’s in prison, his father seems a million miles away, and he wakes up every morning hoping the world will be different. Then one day he meets Dante. In Ari’s head, Dante’s a kid who’s his exact opposite. Ari doesn’t believe Dante’s like anyone else he’s ever met. Dante’s a boy who’s crazy about parents and loves to fill his head with nonsense. He’s a boy who has an unusually optimistic view of the world, so much different from Ari’s. Yet over the summer of 1987, Ari and Dante grow inseparable, and discover they share a special friendship – the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. With Dante by his side, Ari begins to learn more about himself and appreciating life. He begins to feel the best he’s ever felt in years, and his relationship with Dante grows complicated. As Ari and Dante navigate new feelings and find their identities, they invite the reader along to discover the secrets of the universe with them.
This is a beautiful book. What makes this so different from other YA works that I’ve read is the stark simplicity of the characters. Ari and Dante are both just normal teenagers, navigating life like the rest of us, and this makes them even more relatable.
Ari is an incredible character. I genuinely liked him as a human and enjoyed reading through his perspective. His self-deprecating narrative, his humor, and his worldview; there was something so real and accessible about him that made him such a lovable character. His inner turmoil as he slowly realizes his love for Dante was so beautiful to read. Speaking of Dante, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him as a character. Ari is scared of growing, in the fear that he’ll change into a person like his brother. Dante helps him realize that change isn’t a bad thing. One of the powerful truths in this novel is that adulthood is a process that is never quite finished, and we’re always in the process of becoming someone else. And that someone doesn’t have to be the person that’s always right, never angry or confused, or capable of making big mistakes. Becoming an adult isn’t the same thing as becoming the best version of ourselves.
This book explores Ari and Dante’s identities as Mexican-American boys, and the way the culture has been portrayed is realistic, yet beautiful. We don’t always end up knowing exactly where we stand in the scheme of our heritage, but that’s alright. The prose in this book is like reading poetry, so uncommon in most YA books, and I have to say that as a reader, this is one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever read. Sáenz isn’t afraid to explore mature topics. Racism, PTSD, homophobia, violence, and death are all mentioned throughout the book, but the author expertly handles all of these topics.
For high school teens.