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

The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.” – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

(p. 261)


This novel is a breathtaking rollercoaster that Benjamin Alire Sáenz keeps you consistently gripped throughout. From the coming-of-age story of its protagonist, Aristotle, to the realisation and exploration of Dante and his sexuality, this novel has excelled in capturing a reader and keeping you mesmerised in this heartwarming story of two teenage boy’s friendship.

Summary from GoodReads:

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.

Dante’s family and Aristotle’s family both have their own personal wars and struggles and yet each person has compassion, patience and resilience to keep going. This novel depicts multiple types of themes and experiences such as: Mexican-American identity, son-father relationships, sexuality & coming-out, the difficulties of a relative in prison and living with a family member post-war.

When I closed the books, after having finished it in two days, my boyfriend walked in to find me with tears rolling down my cheeks. “Good book?” he asked, to which I slowly nodded and cried “I can’t even see anything anymore there’s so much water all over my face!” The gradual build up which escalated to a particularly impactive scene towards the end was done in such a clever and emotive way that I have to applaud Sáenz for his incredible awareness of language use and ability to curate such relatable and authentic characters that come alive on the page.

The reason I chose to use friendship instead of relationship earlier to describe Aristotle and Dante is because this novel is not solely centred around their relationship. For the majority of this book, it is based on their friendship and the unwavering loyalty and care they have for each other. That is the foundation of a real relationship. Finding someone beautiful or kind isn’t the soul thing that progresses and sustains a relationship, you need to really, whole-heartedly and blindingly love and support someone. That’s what Ari and Dante do. In all of their situations they unwaveringly hold that loyalty to each other and their friendship.

I found myself resembling a bit towards Ari as I have a stubborn streak and tendency to think that I am a very open person, when in reality I choose what I want to share with people and keep a lot of my real feelings locked inside my brain or a journal. The feeling you get when somebody loves you so blindingly is that you wonder if you’re worthy of it. Why should that person care so much about you? What did you do to deserve it? That’s one of the inner battles that Ari struggles with Dante’s friendship and one that I can understand.

The other beautiful thing that this book does, is that it doesn’t just focus on children developing into young adults and the tumultuous feelings that you have throughout it. It shows parents and the impact decisions have as they try to raise children. You’re not always going to make the right choice and more often than not your child will rebel against you, but the most integral thing is to keep that door of communication open.

“We don’t always make the right decisions, Ari. We do the best we can.”

Another point I’d like to touch upon before finishing this review is the part that first made me tear up. There is a chapter in which Ari says “Did all boys feel alone?” There is that society pressure on men to not feel or show emotion. The stigmatism added to the concept of homosexuality being “weak” or “not right” especially during 1988 where he is having to deal with his awakening feelings, traps him in this bubble of emotions where he can’t talk to anyone. It really brings up that discussion of how men are raised to not talk or cry. Son-father relationships are just a complex and tumultuous as daughter-mother ones and this novel delves into this beautiful.

So to conclude, please pick this book up and read it if you haven’t already. It’s definitely one I imagine being remembered as a stunning novel well into the future. I can’t wait to read and discover more of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s works.

I’ve heard that a sequel might be in the future and while I’d like to learn more about Ari and Dante’s future, I do enjoy this book as a stand-alone novel and hope only for more stunning writing and not just pressure for a second book.

Language and Style: 10 points
Plot: 9 points
Characters: 10 points
Story: 9 points

Total: 38/40

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