Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Book Review

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Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Publication: February 21st, 2012

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

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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.

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Amazon: Aristotle and Dante

Rating:

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Plot

This was such a beautiful coming of age story following two 15-year-old boys till they are 17. Aristotle and Dante takes place in 1980’s El Paso, Texas. It’s a story all about friendship, growth, love, forgiveness, and acceptance of yourself. Aristotle is a young Mexican boy that is dealing with a lot of pent up anger and hate towards others/himself. He keeps it all inside because he has a brother in jail that his whole family acts like doesn’t exist and a father who he doesn’t understand. His father deals with the effects of his trauma from the Vietnam war so he is very closed off and doesn’t open much. Dante is a very happy go lucky boy who seems to have it all figured out. He is loud and has no qualms about approaching Ari when he sees him at the pool. From there he doesn’t leave Ari’s life. His biggest struggle seems to be his struggling with not really feeling Mexican. I can relate to this as a Puerto Rican/Peruvian American. I deal with racism here but when I visit I’m not Puerto Rican enough. I think Sáenz hit it on the money with that issue that I am sure a lot of Latinx or Hispanic people deal with. I think my favorite part of this story was that there wasn’t much of a plot but it still was so deep and thought-provoking. These two boys really made me think and question things. As they were trying to find themselves and navigate that weird age of being a teen but being treated as adults was so relatable. At like 17 you’re expected to have your whole life figured out and it is the most daunting thing because we are still treated as kids but we have to make life-altering decisions???? This story was more of a message and it was intriguing, engaging, and intense at moments. It felt very real and their emotions felt very real because I felt like I really could relate to them. I couldn’t put this down at all. 

Writing

I listened to this on Audible so I am going to talk about that as well. Lin Manuel sold this story. He was a perfect voice and just entrapped me into the whole story from page one. He got the wit, sarcasm, anger, laughter, sadness, and everything wrapped into one. I was crying from laughing so hard. I just felt like I loved this even more because of his tone and voice that he added to the overall story. But the writing itself was filled with stunning prose and it was beautifully lyrical. The message of the story and how Sáenz delivered it really spoke to me. It will 100% remain in my heart because of how much I connected to this story. It is funny because I am not a boy, gay, have a brother in jail, or a father who was in the war but something in this story connected with my heart so much. I think as a Latina it is hard to find stories with Latinx MCs so when I do they just really resonate with me. The way the author wrote the characters and represented not just Mexican culture but Latinx culture really spoke to me. This story was freaking hilarious people. Clutching your stomach hilarious. Ari has my sense of humor so you can see I really connected with him. The story felt very vivid and compelling. The car accident scene and the jumping scene/Ari fighting scene made my heart stop and brought tears to my eyes. The whole story just grabbed at my heart and made me ache. It was so beautiful. I found out it has a sequel coming and a movie. I don’t know how I will deal with that, to be honest, but I need them yesterday. 

Characters

This was a beautiful representation of two Mexican boys who are a bit of a loner and trying to understand themselves and the world around them. I loved the protective nature they had for each other that just unknowingly grew. I loved how they discovered their sexuality and the way the author let it unfold. It was done in a stunning way. I also loved the two different perspectives of coming out. Dante came to terms with it faster and just realized it was what he wanted. Ari was the more in denial one who didn’t want to lose his best friend. Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza is an angry and cynical boy. He has a lot of self-hate and hatred inside of him. He wants to understand so much and it frustrates him. He is very funny and sarcastic (want him as a bestie). I related to him in a lot of ways. I especially related to the fact that his parents always question/jest about his lack of friends because el oh el that is me and my family. Dante Quintana is a know it all who worms his way into Ari’s life. He is knowledgeable, loves swimming, loves poetry, and is incredibly funny himself. He is disciplined, focused, and fierce about those he loves but he is a kind person. Dante loves to read and is an incredible artist. He struggled with not feeling Mexican enough. I loved the boy’s families and how supportive and caring they were. I loved involved they were in their lives but not too pushy. The parents definitely reminded me of mine at times lol. The growing friendship was so beautiful and I could not get enough of these boys. 

Romance

Sigh. My heart. I ache. I pine. I perish. Ari and Dante met at a pool because Ari couldn’t swim and my heart just took off from there. I think the best thing about this relationship was how different they were. The boys were pretty much opposites but their care and love for each other as friends at first brought them together. It was hilarious honestly seeing Ari’s denial throughout the book. Like he mentions Dante’s voice and beauty a lot. He said Dante made life easier for him, called him beautiful, and el oh el but I don’t get high and naked with my besties to gazes at the stars IN THE RAIN (BUT THAT IS JUST ME ARISTOTLE). I mean he literally saved Dante’s life and beat up one of the guys who hurt Dante. Plus he hated the boy Daniel but he had no reason besides “He left you Dante he is a bastard.” I LOVE that Ari’s parents had to sit him down and state everything I mentioned YET he still didn’t get it until they had to spell it out for him YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH THAT BOY ARI. That was very special to me because most LGBT books the kid talks to the parents but Sáenz said no let’s get funky with this his parents will hold an intervention. This slow burn was so good but so evil. I mean Dante kissed him, gave him A SPONGE BATH (I actually died at this part, like full on fell on the floor), wrote him letters when he was away and then the book ends with that last kiss. HOW ARE SÁENZ END IT LIKE THAT. It was unfair because I wanted more but alas we have a sequel. Sighs. Swoons. Dies. Wake me when it’s out. 

Favorite Quotes
“As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was. 
The problem with my life is that it was someone else’s idea. “What are you going to do today?” It sounded like a challenge. “I’m going to join a gang.” “That’s not funny.” “I’m Mexican isn’t that what we do?” “Not funny.”
“You’re an asshole,” he said. “Na I’m a poet. A poet of the body.” And then they both busted out laughing. Yeah, sure they were budding Walt Whitmans the two of them.
One thing was for sure. There was no way I was going to ask one of those idiots to help me with my swimming. It was better to be alone and miserable. It was better to drown.
Two guys without a life. How much fun could that be? I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself then to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule.
And he read poems. I didn’t worry about understanding them. I didn’t care about what they meant. I didn’t care because what mattered was that Dante’s voice felt real and I felt real. Until Dante being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. 
That afternoon I learned two new words. Inscrutable and friend. Words were different when they lived inside you.
Man loneliness was much bigger than boy loneliness. 
“Do you think it will always be this way?” “What?” “I mean, when do we start feeling like the world belongs to us?” I wanted to tell him that the world would never belong to us. “I don’t know,” I said. “Tomorrow.”
I wondered what that was like. To hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.
“I won’t hurt you.” You’ve already hurt me. That’s what I wanted to say. Those were the words that entered my head. Those were the words I wanted to slap him with. The words were mean. I was mean. “Let me,” he said. Instead of telling him to go screw himself I said ok…I closed my eyes. I felt Dante’s hands on my shoulders. The warm water. The soap. The washcloth. Dante’s hands were bigger than my mothers and softer. He was slow. Methodical. Careful. He made me feel as fragile as porcelain. I never once opened my eyes. We didn’t say a word. I felt his hands on my bare chest. On my back. I let him shave me. When he was done I opened my eyes. Tears were falling down his face. 
“I love swimming and you.” I didn’t say anything. “Swimming and you Ari. Those are the things I love the most.”
“Mom I’m your son, not a suggestion box.”
He hugged me again and whispered, “I missed you so much, Ari Mendoza.”
It wouldn’t be summer without Dante’s laughter.
Another secret of the universe. Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder. 
“There are worse things in the world than a boy who likes to kiss other boys.”
Dante looked at me. He just kept looking at me. “You’re staring,” I said. “Can I tell you a secret Ari?” “Can I stop you?” “You don’t like knowing my secrets.” “Sometimes your secrets scare me.” Dante laughed. “I wasn’t really kissing Daniel. In my head, I was kissing you.”
“You love that boy.” I kept staring down at the table. “I think you love him more than you can bear.”
“You said I wasn’t scared of anything. That’s not true. You. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of you Dante.” I took a deep breath. “Try it again,” I said. “Kiss me.” “No,” he said. “Kiss me.” “No.” And then he smiled. “You kiss me.” I placed my hand on the back of his neck. I pulled him toward me and kissed him. I kissed him. And I kissed him. And I kissed him. And I kissed him. And he kept kissing me back. 
“I wished it was raining,” he said. “I don’t need the rain,” I said. “I need you.”
From the minute I had met Dante I had fallen in love with him…How could I have ever been ashamed of loving Dante Quintana. 

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Kathryn Calderon | 23 | Graphic Artist | Artist of many trades | Villains are my soul

6 thoughts on “Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Book Review

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