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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (4.5)

Do you think our parents are right—that there’s a whole world out there just waiting for us?

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I have read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe twice now, and I loved it even more the second time. Maybe this is because I read it while sitting in a kayak on a lake one beautiful Summer afternoon, but whatever the reason, I love this book. However, I need to express some anger here: Benjamin Alire Sáenz, where the heck is the second book that you added to Goodreads 4 years ago? I NEED THAT BOOK.

Anyways, Ari and Dante is a beautifully crafted story about two young Mexican-American boys, and their relationship as it develops from friendship to love. I immediately loved Ari and Dante’s characters from the moment I was introduced to them. Ari is a lonely and pretty pessimistic boy who is absolutely hilarious to me. He is a boy feels sorry for himself so much that he says it’s an art, and he makes quite a lot of jokes and sarcastic remarks to cope with this. He refers to himself as a pseudo only child, as his twin sisters are much older, and his brother, who is also much older, is in jail and not mentioned by anyone in the family. He also has a difficult relationship with his father, who served in the Vietnam war.

Dante is such a sweet pure soul, and very much the opposite of Ari. He views the world as a place full of wonder and possibilities, and is overall a happy boy. The pair meet at a pool when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, and despite their differences, they instantly connect. I want to cry just thinking about this book. I have never read about a friendship/relationship like Dante and Ari’s…they just have such an impact on each other. I found it especially impactful to hear how Dante affected Ari: “Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me”.

Can I also just say how much I loved both Dante and Ari’s parents? Like maybe even more than Dante and Ari? Mr. and Mrs. Quintana especially treat Ari the same way they treat their own son Dante. There’s this part where Mrs. Quintana grabs Ari’s face and says “Aristotle Mendoza, I will love you forever”…are you kidding me?! Also, over time I really came to love and feel a lot of emotions about Ari and his dad. Ari and his mom were always close, whereas Ari and his dad had quite a few rough patches, but seeing their relationship shift was really impactful and emotional. There is one point where Ari dreams about his dad while he is sick, and he screams for his dad. His dad says to him later “In your dream. You were looking for me”, to which Ari replies “I’m always looking for you”.

The book really takes a turn when Ari gets injured saving Dante from getting hit by a car after he tries to save a hurt bird. Come on. What a Dante thing to do. Ari’s reaction to waking up in the hospital is “At long last I get to do drugs”…like how can you not like this guy? Ari insists he didn’t save Dante, because he doesn’t want to admit his love for him, though at this point it’s clear to readers and they boys’ parents.

Let me interrupt that thought for a second to say something: The thing with Ari is he keeps all these beautiful things to himself, and even though as a reader I still get to know what he thinks, I really wish he would say these things out loud for the sake of the other characters. For example, there is a beautiful moment in the hospital where Ari sees his dad smile, and he thinks to himself, “I loved his smile. Why couldn’t he just smile all the time?”. Ari does think like Dante sometimes, he just keeps it all in.

Okay back Ari and Dante after the accident. Okay whoops I had a thought and I’m going to interrupt this again to talk about Dr. Charles, and readers if you have your book on you right now will you please turn to the interaction that occurs from page 119-123 of the paperback edition (if you have it). This interaction between Ari and Dr. Charles just warmed my heart so much. This doctor cares so much about Ari, and even has an appreciation for his humour. Please read through this. I love it.

OKAY NOW BACK TO DANTE AND ARI AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP. As I was saying, Ari tells everyone that he didn’t intentionally run out and push Dante away from the car. It was “a reflex” as he calls it, though no one believes this. This accident, and the new news that Dante is moving away for a year, really pushes their relationship, as both of them start to realize that there is something more to their friendship, though with Ari it is again held inside. They later share this very intimate moment where Dante bathes and shaves Ari, which is a big deal because Ari allows him to do so, which is very unlike Ari.

After Dante moves away, the boys both have their own experiences with other people, which I guess was needed for them to realize that they really only have feelings for each other.

Ending this review soon because this has somehow become really long, but I just want to say that a really beautiful part of the book comes right near the end, in a conversation between Ari and his dad. Ari’s dad says “Ari, the problem isn’t just that Dante’s in love with you. The real problem—for you, anyway—is that you’re in love with him”. This is so impactful because this comes from Ari’s dad of all people, and shows that they’re finally at a point where they’re comfortable with each other. I love all the relationships that happen in this book and I find Benjamin Alire Sáenz to be such a beautiful writer. The story progresses so perfectly, and the characters are perfectly developed.

I acknowledge that there are definitely some parts of this book I didn’t talk about, but this was getting kind of long so if you want to talk about something else just comment it down below! Alright bye I’m going to read this book again.

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