Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Benjamin Alire Saenz
This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.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.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2021-10-12
First person perspective quickly became a non-issue once I got a few chapters into this book. This is probably the best first person story I've read. All the feels. So, so many feels. This story was so profound. I felt like I was Aristotle, or Ari to his friends. He was a lonely, lonely boy, and though I had good friends--great friends growing up, I remember feeling such an aching loneliness at times. I also remember being caught in my own private wars and living inside my head, keeping so many of my thoughts to myself. Ari was a beautiful boy who was confused not only about himself, but about the entirety of his family. His father returned from the Vietnam war a shell of his former self--not that Ari would know that because he was born after his father returned from the war. It was as if whatever haunted his father was inherited by Ari. He grew up being so bothered by the fact that he didn't know his father because he wouldn't let anyone in. He grew up as practically an only child because his siblings were so much older than him. He grew up hating that his brother, who was in prison, was treated as though he didn't exist. He hated that there were so many secrets in his family, yet he didn't want to share any of his secrets either. There was so much anger and confusion roiling around inside of Ari. And it really came through in the writing. I just wanted to hug him, and I remember being him. And then Dante came into his life. Dante was such a polar opposite of Ari, but like a light in the otherwise darkness of Ari's mind. They were a strange pair, Aristotle and Dante, but they fit so perfectly together. Dante taught Ari to swim, and became Ari's first ever real friend, let alone best friend. He immersed Ari int art, and books, and a different family life than he was familiar with. Dante made Ari feel things that he didn't want to. He made Dante want to share his mind, which was something Ari just didn't do. Watching them fall in love... It was amazing and beautifully written. This was like a slice-of-life, but with a plot. I wasn't always certain they were falling in love. The author, in my opinion, keep me wondering. I figured Dante out pretty easily, but Ari, as Dante called him, was "inscrutable". Just when I thought maybe he returned Dante's feelings I was like, oh maybe not. Even when Dante was beaten badly enough to be hospitalized, and Ari found out one of the boys who had done it, he went ballistic and returned the favor to the little punk. Maybe I'm just clueless, but I certainly would destroy anyone who hurt my bestie, and I would definitely have pushed her out of the way of a moving vehicle. That's what besties do, or at least I thought so. Which is why it made sense to me when Ari continually said he hadn't done it on purpose, it had just been a reflex. Protecting people you love-no matter the manner of love--is a reflex. You don't think about it, you just do it. I honestly believed for the longest time, that Ari loved Dante as a friend. Their experimental kiss threw me off because the author tried very hard to make the romantic feelings seem one-sided...or as I said, I'm just clueless. I'm not doing very well on this review. This book has got me shooketh. It was just a beautiful story, and I loved every page of it! It was sad and funny and exciting and heartbreaking. Dude, this book made me cry. Not full-on ugly cry, but I got misty and that's a good as tears when it comes to me. This book also triggered me a bit. But it was a me-thing. I was reminded, every time Ari thought about his father, of how much I miss mine. And like with many other books on my shelves, I can't believe it took me so long to read this.
Reviewed: 2020-12-01

The summer of 1987 is supposed to be the best summer of Ari’s sometimes troubled life, but it doesn’t workout exactly as he has planned. Luckily, he finds a new best friend in Dante -- and perhaps more about himself than he realizes. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe follows the lives of two very different 15-year-old Hispanic boys throughout a time of great change and discovery. The beautiful cover art leaves you wanting further illustrations throughout the novel, but Benjamin Alire Sáenz provides descriptive text that helps you feel fully engulfed throughout the story. The raw emotions of his characters keep you laughing, sympathizing and sometimes criticizing as you follow Ari along his path to self-discovery, with Dante pulling him along. This would be an excellent resource for teens dealing with the struggles of questioning their sexuality.

Reviewed: 2020-06-18

I loved this story! It was so sweet and tender. A student recommended it to me like 3 years ago now, and I can't decide if I'm sad or glad that I waited. It was a really good story for me to read at this particular point in my life. I related to Ari in a LOT of ways even if the reasons I never fit in and the reasons I felt a distance from my parents were both different. It was bittersweet for me to watch from adulthood as Ari struggled through those awful teen years and learned to see and accept who he is. I definitely want to read the sequel.

Reviewed: 2019-05-23

"This book was beautifully written! It explores friendship and identity in an untraditional way. There were a lot a surprises throughout it, too."

- Ms. King

Reviewed: 2019-05-03

This unabridged audiobook in mp3 format was read by Lin-Manuel Miranda. There are no background effects besides the music at the beginning, but they are not needed and the sound quality is excellent. His stage experience is obvious as throughout the reading his pronunciation and volume were always on point. He also utilized pitch and speed while reading to differentiate between speaking characters. These voice effects not only helped to engage the listener, but also aided in understanding of the context. In parts of the book, Spanish phrases and words were used. Though my Spanish is practically non-existent, I was able to understand the sentiment of the words based on Miranda's inflection and the surrounding context. I found myself to be completely lost in my listening experience. In this piece of realistic fiction, subtext is king. It's clear that the parents in the book are wiser than the kids. They see where Ari and Dante are headed long before the boys do. The author's ability to build honest and believable characters helps the reader to empathize with all of the characters, even when they are being stupid. The coming-of-age theme mixes well with the likes of family, culture and sexual discovery. Nothing feels wedged in or out of place. Dante's struggle with being Mexican American feels true. Saenz presents two points-of-view from young men growing up Mexican American. Though this, he respectfully shows differences and similarities in Mexican American family life. The settings all match the trappings of a high schooler's life, and help to create a full world for the reader to explore. It's his style though, that really ties everything together. Phrases like, "I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone's hand." were everywhere. The parts I read in print, I read much faster because I wanted to know what happened so badly, but the parts which I listened to allowed me to rest on the words and have a more intense experience. Either way, I felt every emotion through Saenz's words, and I recommend this book in print and audio formats for any YA collection.

Reviewed: 2019-02-26
I've almost memorized it. x'D
Reviewed: 2016-11-18

In literature, a foil is a technique used by the author to create a contrast between characters. In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Sáenz, Sáenz demonstrates how a foil beautifully frames an endearing relationship between Ari and Dante. Secrets and silences are undercurrents that set each of the major characters into a tailspin, but towards the end, secrets are revealed and silences are turned into speech. Everyone carries secrets and silences as a means to defend their identity and integrity.  There were major events in the novel that eventually shaped the relationship between these Mexican Americans teens.  A car that almost his Dante but Ari stepped in was broke his legs and one arm;  the imprisonment of Bernardo (Art’s older brother)  because he killed a transvestite prostitute which Ari’s mother refuses to talk about why her oldest son in jail; Ari’s father inability to talk about the emotional and psychological scars brought upon him for being a soldier in the Vietnam War, Aunt Ophelia’s suddenly died due to a stroke and this incident revealed to  Ari that his aunt had a long-term romantic relationship with another woman; Dante leaving to Chicago with his family as his father was offered his job; Dante admitting to Ari that he is beginning to have desires to kiss other boys and asks Dante to kiss him so he can experience kissing a boy;  Dante away, Ari experiments with pot and engages in relationship with women, in particularly with Iliana; after the school ended, Dante returns back and starts a relationship with Daniel, a co-worker, one day while kissing, Dante was assaulted and ended up in the hospital, similar to when Ari was in the hospital after he was hit by the car; the ultimate ice breaker is when Ari mother convenes a family meeting in which his father reveals a war story that has haunted, and his revelation allowed Ari to understand the reason for his sometime irrational or erratic behavior with Dante was because he too was in love him. The end of the novel, bring them both to the desert, where their friendship really took shape, and Ari intentionally kisses Dante and clasp his hands.

 

Aristotle and Dante does not read like a novel that would be a part of an ELA curriculum.  Rather it would seem more appropriate in an American Studies course, a class the gives the educator the flexibility to merge adolescent societal issues with literature.  The novel merges important issues that reflect contemporary teens such as, cultural and racial identity, sexuality, family, death, criminality, war acceptance, stereotypes, and other important issues that shape the texture and tone of a teenager’s life.  Another placement for this novel would be relevant between a school counselor/therapist/psychologist or social work and student. Aristotle and Dante could be given to a student, especially a Latino/a if sh/e is in the process of coming to accepting the sexual orientation. Reading the novel will provide an opportunity for the student to project her or his emotions with the objective of validating them and by extension validating their personhood. 

 

Reviewed: 2016-08-16

Highly recommended!! 

This is a well-written and lovable book. The characters of Ari and Dante and witty, sweet, flawed, and real. As the reader, you get to watch their friendship unfold at a time where their sense of self is also unfolding, and their own understanding of their sexuality. Their friendship builds naturally and organically, and Benjamin Alire Saenz seamlessly takes you through the story of this young love. The writing is beautiful and the attention to detail adds a charming intricacy that brings his characters to life.

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