Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“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 firmly believe that this is one of the most moving and personal YA contemporaries I have ever read! I first read this book when I was around the same age as the characters and connected with it in such a personal way that it will always have a place in my heart, and I have always been worried that no review I could ever give would do it justice. But here goes!

This is a very character driven novel and there is not much of a plot, and while this may be an issue for some it was one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Sáenz’s decision to focus on the little things, which subsequently creates a slow pace, is so important to wider messages and struggles within the story. This pacing allows the reader to see the characters central to the story slowly grow up and change, and thus aids us in empathizing with Ari’s struggles regarding growing up. This struggle can be seen best in quotes such as the following “The way he said that. Like her knew we would never play that game again. We were too old now. We’d lost something and we both knew it.” and “When I hung up the phone, I felt a little sad. And a little happy. For a few minutes I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of almost- men.”, both of which reflect a confusion of emotions and a sense of melancholy at the inevitable passing of time that I’m sure many of us relate to.

The pace of the novel also allows for a deep exploration of other important issues including self- identity, ethnicity, internalized homophobia and bullying. Ari is a character that struggles with the idea of fitting- in in many ways, and this leads to isolation and internalized homophobia that eventually causes him to push everyone away. While we see this character struggle with and overcome issues in a very internal way, we see Dante face issues that come as a result of the homophobia of others. While these two central characters appear to be complete opposites, it is their perseverance and willingness to face the respective issues they face and grow as people that makes their stories so touching and makes us as an audience recognize their compatibility.

Sáenz’s decision to focus upon character exploration outside of the romance of the story can be seen not only in the friendship between Ari and Dante taking prominence over the eventual romance, but can also be seen in the family relationships present. The presentation of the parents of both Ari and Dante were vital to the plot, and the struggles they go through and support they provide for their sons helps to depict a family life that feels very real and personal. This is particularly prominent in Ari’s family’s struggles regarding his father’s silence after fighting in the Vietnam war and the family’s general silence regarding Ari’s brother who’s in jail. This is a depiction that is rarely seen in YA literature, which only makes this novel all the more special to me.

Finally, the prose of this novel was simplistic yet so beautiful, so much so that it immediately made me fall in love with the story before I’d even properly started it! The beauty of the writing can be seen in lines such as:

“Water was something he loved, something he respected. He understood its beauty and its dangers. He talked about swimming as if it were a way of life.”

“I always felt that when she looked at me, she was trying to find me, trying to find out who I was. But it seemed at that moment that she saw me, that she knew me. But that confused me.”

“..and then it started hailing. It was so beautiful and scary, I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.”

“And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”

So overall, I think it’s fair to say the way Sáenz writes creates a sense of both mellowness and melancholy which made for a beautiful and poignant story that will always be a favorite!

 

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz”

  1. […] I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best books I have ever read! It deals with such important issues regarding sexuality and identity in such a sensitive way, and the prose is absolutely beautiful! I connected with both Aristotle and Dante so much that finishing this book was painful, and I was left wanting to read nothing other than books about their lives! You can find my full review for this book here: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe! […]

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