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

Rated it: 5 stars

I reread this gem last year and the feels are still incredibly strong. Long story short this is a coming of age story of teenager Aristotle (told entirely in his point of view) during the 1980s set in El Paso, Texas, and spans two years.

The summer was hot and humid, the rain was like a veil into different emotional dimension I kid you not. And the birds, well they were there crapping on people in a real way. Oh, just read the thing and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s raining as I’m writing, and usually when it does I’m reminded of my summer boys.

And I’ll be straight with you, dear readers, this is a novel I cannot formulate a coherent sentences worthy of a decent review so I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for this mass of fangirl babble. Ari was at the awkward age where he’s coming to terms that his body is changing, he’s occupied with thoughts of his veteran father who’s in another world most of the time. Added to that he’s somewhat obsessed with an older brother who he barely remembers. 

He meets the soft spoken and bookish Dante (one of the cinnamon-iest cinnamon roll I’ve read so far) one day at the pool. A loner by choice, Ari begins to find his company an education.

The friendship that grows between these two … it’s simple yet it’s not. For better or for worse they change each other. Simply by being there they challenged themselves with facing the hard questions, the kind of questions that makes them realize just how vast and painfully tangible the universe possibly is.

What I loved

  • Sáenz didn’t mince words, let me tell you. When I first read it I was confused and uncomfortable but then I got it. This was Ari’s voice: raw, undiluted and straightforward. Also the writing gets poetic, which I expect from a book with a guy named Aristotle in it. Not that he’s poetic. Hmm, well he does get poetic but he doesn’t think he is.
  • Ari. I like him. A lot. Full of angsty pubescent emotions, foul mouthed (as much as a fifteen year old can be in YA), a natural born smart ass, and an actual decent human being. Cute too, did I mention?
  • Dante, another smarty pants. He’s the yin to Ari’s yang. Gentle, fierce, kind and forever curious. If I recall correctly, he has identity issues with his Mexian ancestry, having not been immersed in it as much as Ari. He’s terribly brave when it comes down to it.
  • The parents, on both sides, had real parts! They never felt like an afterthought, were more than the extras you’d find in YA, or what I’ve read to now. They had active roles in the growing, healing and acceptance. Not in the least they were shown to be affected by their boys.
  • That effing cover tho. A red pickup is a guaranteed yes. I have the paperback but with the printed on sticker with all the awards this got (irritate the hell out of me, why don’t you, publishers?). When you fully open the book you’ll see on the spine that a full moon presides on the desert scene that continues seamlessly on the back. The front cover is simply a work of art. I mean, look at it, the doodles are on the back as well.
  • The magic. I’ve never felt this light and immersed in a book before. It was like I was insubstantial.


What I disliked

  • Psych. There is nothing to not like. As I said, I read this a second time last year having read it in 2015 first. I don’t recall anything negative worthy of attention. I plan on reading it again, so I’ll update if I do find any.

There was confusion, definitely. Denial? In abundance. Speaking of which I forgot to mention just how sneaky the writing was. I didn’t know what was doing until Ari realized it for himself and if that’s not Grade A writing, shit, I don’t know what is.

I know I’m being annoyingly vague but I don’t want to give anything away. Okay, fine, you saw it tagged on Goodreads as LGBT. Honestly, I never thought of this as a love story, it’s more than that so you need to read Aristotle and Dante. Whether you’re thirteen or seventy-nine, read it.

“I renamed myself Ari.

If I switched the letter, my name was Air.

I thought it might be a great thing to be the air.

I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me.”

– Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante (…)

P.S: It looked like I did find it in me to write a review after all. Have a good day folks, and be safe.


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Filed under Books, Fiction, Young Adult

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