Bookish Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Published: February 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Contemporary, Coming-of-age. LGBT

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads |  Buy on Amazon

I first heard about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Tumblr where everyone is raving about it. I was also drawn to it by the beautiful cover and very unique title. I went into it blind, knowing very little about it beyond the blurb and I think that’s the best way to read this book.

Aristotle is your average 15-year old whiling away summer and waiting for life to begin. Ari, as he prefers to be called, is underwhelmed by his short life so far and also frustrated with the secrets his family seem determined to keep. Being a “pseudo only child” with two much older sisters and a brother locked up in prison, he is comfortable and happy being a loner . All that changes though when Ari meets Dante at the local swimming pool. Dante is unlike anyone Ari has met and the two are polar opposites. But it is from this chance meeting that a very special friendship blossoms, one that changes their lives and helps them unravel the secrets of the universe – the mysteries of identity, family and growing up.

“And me, I always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t even belong in my own body – especially my own body. I was changing into someone I didn’t know. The change hurt but I didn’t know why it hurt. And nothing about my own emotions made any sense.”

Aristotle and Dante is written almost like a stream of consciousness, we are in Ari’s head the entire time, hearing his innermost thoughts. While Ari is not very forthcoming on the outside, his inner monologue is beautiful. He is inquisitive, frustrated, insightful and sad in equal measure but not one bit pretentious. Ari doesn’t seem to realise the wisdom he possesses and is convinced he is lacking in all the ways that matter to a teenage boy. The book’s blurb describes it as “lyrical” and it was indeed lyrical. But, while the word usually denotes something light or whimsical to me, this book was the absolute opposite. It was so, so raw and all of Ari’s thoughts felt and rang true.

“But the worst part was that those words were living inside me. And they were leaking out of me. Words were not things you could control. Not always.”

How to talk about Ari? Ari who is “unknowable”. His narrative voice is one of the most powerful I’ve come across in young adult literature, and not because he’s leading a rebellion against a dystopian state or because he is rebelling against parents or society. Ari is mostly rebelling against himself. He was often truthful to the point of being painful at times, something that is incredibly refreshing and allows the reader to understand Ari’s insecurities. You realise how little of himself Ari reveals to the world and it feels like a privilege to be privy to his complex thoughts. Some of his opinions and thoughts were so wonderfully uncensored and there were points during this book where, I admit, there were tears because it was so moving.

“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.”

Dante was, simply put, beautiful. His confidence, his vitality was just contagious and you immediately fall in love with how honest he is with himself and his unique approach to life. I won’t say much more about Dante because he really is a delight to read about through Ari’s eyes. The parents and other characters in this book were portrayed fantastically. It was great to see a YA book where the parents are as central to the story as the teens, and portrayed as human, as something to be understood rather than dismissed. Aristotle and Dante was honest in its depiction of the power struggles, the invisible battles, the subtle dynamics of families – the things that essentially *make* it a family.

“There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghosts of my father’s war, the ghosts of my sisters’ voices. And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”

If you need anymore convincing that you should read this book, I clearly haven’t fangirled enough above. This is a great read with a lot of depth and proves the critics of YA fiction wrong. If you’re partial to having playlists for books, Wake Me Up by Avicii would fit Aristotle and Dante perfectly. I couldn’t get the lyrics out of my head whilst I was reading this book.

Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments below 🙂

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