Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
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.
Review: The only word that I can use to describe this book is “beautiful.” The cover is beautiful, the characters are beautiful, the writing is beautiful. It totally deserves all of the awards it has won.
Ari and Dante are teens who meet at the swimming pool and quickly become best friends. They are both dealing with complicated problems. Ari’s brother is in prison, and he has a hard time getting along with his father. Dante is an outsider who is uncomfortable with his family’s Mexican heritage. Over the course of a few summers, they help each other discover the secrets of the universe and find happiness.
I love the way this book is written. It’s obvious that the author has a background in poetry. The prose is sparse and elegant, and I reread whole chapters just because I was obsessed with the way they sounded. I think I could reread this book a dozen times and not get sick of it.
I also love how much the story focuses on families. Ari and Dante both learn to see their parents as flawed humans. I think a lot of real-life teens have an oversimplified idea of parents. They see their parents as evil overlords or as creatures that sprang into existence the second the teen was born. I like that Ari learns about his parents’ pasts and starts forgiving them for their mistakes. He begins to see his mom and dad as complex humans.
Dante is one of my new favorite fictional characters. I love (I’m using that word way too much) his innocence and enthusiasm. I was so happy for him at the end. I had this huge, stupid smile on my face while reading the last chapter.
I did struggle to connect with Ari. I understand that he’s depressed for most of the book, but his depression often comes across as self-centered whininess. I also dislike the way his story ends. I wish he was self-aware enough to sort out his feelings about Dante by himself. Instead, his parents sit him down and tell him what he’s feeling. I know that the boys’ families are a huge part of the book, but I found this conversation to be a little presumptuous. I wish his parents had guided him through his feelings and let him come to his own conclusions instead of interpreting his feelings for him and telling him what to do about them.
My only other criticism is the sappiness. All of the characters are weepy, and a few of the scenes are so sweet that they’re gag-inducing for me. This probably won’t bother most readers. I just have zero tolerance for sentimentality.
These are all minor criticisms. Overall, this book is amazing. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to flip it over and immediately start reading it again.