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

  • Reviews

Release Date: February 21, 2012

Rating: 4.5 out of 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

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautifully crafted story about two young Mexican-American boys, and their relationship as it develops from friendship to love. I have read Ari & Dante 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. Here are some thoughts I had while reading it:

Actual footage of me reading Ari & Dante

Format

I own the paperback version of this book, and it’s one of those floppy paperbacks that are just so quick to read – my absolute favourite! The chapters are also very short, which makes it almost impossible to stop reading. I kept saying “one more chapter, it’s only a few pages”, and suddenly I was done the book.

Characters

I immediately loved Ari from the moment I was introduced to him. He is a lonely and pessimistic boy who is absolutely hilarious. He 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, so he’s definitely very relatable to myself and a lot of people. 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. It was interesting to read about Dante as the book progressed and he got closer with Dante, who really changed him: “Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me.”

I loved both Dante and Ari’s parents maybe even more than Dante and Ari. Especially Mr. and Mrs. Quintana, who 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”…that’s beautiful.

Spoilers Ahead!

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”.

Internal Dialogue

The thing with Ari is that he usually keeps all these beautiful thoughts 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.

The Accident

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, which is such 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, 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.

Also, 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.

Coming out? (Let’s Get Critical, Critical, I Wanna Get Critical)

Let’s get critical for a moment. Originally, the scene in which Ari’s dad and mom speak to Ari about his sexuality was something I found really endearing. 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”. On one hand, 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. But on the other hand, this scene is in some ways problematic. I recently read a chapter of Beyond Borders: Queer Eros and Ethos (Ethics) in Lgbtq Young Adult Literature (you should definitely read this), which delved into analyzing Ari & Dante, and changed the way I viewed this scene, specifically in the chapter “Out of the Closet and All Grown Up.” It spoke about how this scene played into the coming out/coming of age trope, which treats coming out is a single definitive moment that solves the character’s problems, when in reality this is a fluid process. It also spoke about how Ari seemed to be questioning throughout the book, and this scene really took his agency and forced him to accept the label that his parents assumed for him.

Final Thoughts

I still enjoyed this book of course, and it is one of my favourites, but it’s always important to make yourself aware of these things and be able to read from a critical perspective as well. Thanks for reading this review, and leave some comments if you want to chat.

Alright bye I’m going to read this book again.

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