Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 21st, 2012
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.
If you really like this site, and our blog, but think that we’ve been a bit remiss in writing about books with non-white, non-hetero characters, you’re right (also, we’re sorry). In which case, we have an early Christmas present for you: a book featuring a non-white, non-hetero love story that’s so cute it’ll make you squeal.
I was genuinely drawn to this book from the cover…I mean, could there be a better title? And I laughed out loud in the first chapter, when Ari and Dante became friends because they both have really strange names imposed on them by their parents (I can sympathize). From the beginning of the book, there’s a lovely, realistic blend of teenage angst, deep emotion and self-discovery. There’s also something just deeply touching about this book, how Ari’s understanding of himself slowly grows throughout the book, and all of the lovely moments connected to it.
This isn’t a book that’s plot-driven, which may irk some readers. It’s deeply character-driven, somewhat rambling, focusing generally on Ari’s teenage life, but also on his ever-changing relationship with Dante. And yes, Ari is an obtuse, annoying little idiot sometimes–but he’s also a teenager, with a lot of angst and a lot of issues he doesn’t know how to talk about. Dante, in contrast, is a perfect, strange little angel, and you really can’t help but fall in love with him.
The family dynamic is also gorgeous. I love it when Dante and Ari admit to each other that they both absolutely adore their parents, and with good reason. Both of them have a solid, supportive family network around them. (in contrast to a lot of YA, where family drama is the basis for the general drama, this is something I like). But at the same time, they face lots of familiar hurdles. Dante’s worry about not being the only child anymore is very real. How much Ari struggles with the secret his parents are keeping from him is also very real, and a subtle motivator for the entire book.
And yeah, both families are Hispanic. Dante’s dad is a professor, Ari’s is a Vietnam vet. They go bowling together and talk about their sons. There’s nothing that’s not adorable here.
And yes, there’s the love story. Which, even though Ari hasn’t come to terms with his sexuality for most of the book, is still a thing. The best thing about that, actually, is that it truly emphasizes the friendship aspect of their relationship. They are friends to each other far before they’re anything else, and it’s the kind of friendship that’s a one-in-a-million thing. Even when Ari is in denial about his love for Dante, he’s still Dante’s protector, and companion, and friend. And even when Dante thinks Ari doesn’t love him, he’s still the person that draws Ari out of his shell, and introduces him to new things, and gets him to talk about his feelings. Although, the moment when Ari finally admits to Dante that he’s in love with him is swoon-worthy.
Especially after the slow-paced, rambling plot the first 90% of the book, the last few chapters feel almost startling in how quickly they clear everything up. There are several really touching family moments where Ari gets reassured that his parents are on his side no matter who he’s in love with. And I laughed out loud at the part where Ari’s mom was all ‘honey, we all know you’re in love with Dante, stop pretending you’re not and go be happy with him’. There are a number of reasons that you should absolutely read this book, and that moment is one of them.
BONUS: Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, narrates the audiobook. And, oh my Lord, there is no person better suited to voicing Ari than him.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.