Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
“Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you're thinking but because you're feeling. Because you're feeling too much. And you can't always control the things you do when you're feeling too much.”
SUMMARY: When fifteen-year-olds Dante and Aristotle meet for the first time, their connection is clear. What isn’t clear to narrator Aristotle are the mysteries surrounding his brother’s imprisonment, the reasons he harbors anger, and the true nature of the relationship he develops with Dante. Through much internal conflict and several physical dangers, Aristotle must come to terms with the loving yet complicated relationship he has with his parents, the love he feels for Dante, and his own understanding of what it means to be a man.
REVIEW: This novel is beautiful, heartbreaking, intelligent, and (thankfully) hopeful. Saenz does such an amazing job crafting Aristotle’s internal conflicts that readers will ache along with him, but do so in an entirely pure way and without the usual frustration a reader often feels when a protagonist cannot accept what is so clearly in front of him. The love story in this book is painful and natural and honest, but an element of equal honesty and importance is found in the relationship between these boys and their parents. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe manages to be an outstanding young adult novel, without the elimination of parental involvement that is so common in the genre. This book presents not one but two sets of parents who even though they are flawed, are present and play significant roles in their sons’ lives. It is refreshing to read a novel that so well captures the period of time when the relationship between parents and children becomes less authoritarian and more egalitarian. A lesser novel would have centered the parent/child conflict on Aristotle and Dante’s sexuality, but Saenz manages to completely flip the script, making both sets of parents accepting and supportive of the boys’ relationship. What a relief. How is it that Saenz is able to so wonderfully write against conventional tropes? He starts by crafting likeable characters. And then he maintains wonderful restraint by avoiding extremes and settling his characters somewhere in the middle, where for most readers, real life happens. Aristotle and Dante aren’t flamboyantly homosexual and although Aristotle is not accepting of his feelings, he is far from homophobic. They are just two teenagers who are growing up and falling in love. This is not to say their relationship is without conflict or that the true negative nature of the world beyond these boys is unrealistically hidden in this book. But by stripping away some of the eye-catching, yet unnecessary elements other novels contain, Saenz gives his characters the space to really explore who they are, who they want to become, and how they fit into the world around them. -Mrs. Stirrat