Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe tells the story of a young teenage boy named Aristotle, beginning in the summer between his sophomore and junior year of high school. Ari doesn’t feel like he has any friends, and he always seems to be angry, yet he doesn’t understand why. One day he meets Dante, a boy with a personality that is the complete antithesis of Ari’s. Dante is happy and easygoing, he cares deeply about animals, and he is able to make friends everywhere he goes. We follow these two boys through the next year of their life, through happiness and sadness and injury and heartache.
Typically I am really not a fan of contemporary novels, but I am so glad that I finally picked up this book. It is a book that celebrates and embraces diversity wonderfully. Benjamin Alire Sáenz has a beautiful, lyrical writing style that made all of the characters seem to jump off the page. The cast of characters felt so real, like normal teenage boys dealing with normal teenage boy worries, while their parents were trying to help them navigate through their teenage years.
Something very unique and wonderful about this book is the presence and involvement of the boys’ parents in their lives. Healthy family units are very rarely seen in young adult literature, and it was so refreshing to see both of these boys interacting with parents who genuinely cared about what was happening in their sons’ lives. These families were not perfect, cookie-cutter households by any means, however. But that is what made their presence so special – the families had problems but they dealt with them together and supported each other. I am so used to reading about teens dealing with their problems all alone due to the absence of any kind of parental figure. Or, if an adult character is present, they are often portrayed as completely useless and not helpful to the teens at all. It was so nice to see parents that actually played a large role in the progression of the story.
As we travel through this book with Ari and Dante, we learn lessons about acceptance and about love – familial love, love of oneself, and romantic love. Even though I would say one of the main themes of the book is love, it is not romance driven as most contemporary works are. This is not a love story – it is a story of love. If you have read this book, you will know what I mean by that. It is so much more than your typical love story. The boys must learn how to love and accept the problems of their families, their Mexican heritage, and the sexuality of themselves and others.
This brings us to the point where I will need to reference spoilers in order to continue discussing my feelings about this book. For those of you who have not yet read this, I encourage you to go pick it up and then come back here and discuss it with me. If you have read this book, click below to read more.
CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS
What I loved the most about this book was the way that diversity and sexuality were approached. Early on in the novel, Dante tells Ari that he thinks about kissing boys, and eventually admits that one day he wants to marry a boy. Ari’s reaction is almost nonexistent (in the best possible way). It’s almost as if Dante had said, “Hey, Ari, I think someday I might cut my hair.” Ari just accepts it and moves on, without a second thought. Because to Ari, Dante is still Dante, no matter what his sexuality. Isn’t that beautiful????
I think I could probably write twenty more pages on all the fantastic parts of this book that tugged on my heartstrings. But there is one more scene in particular that is screaming for attention. I would consider this one of the most poignant, heartwarming scenes I have ever read in my life. Toward the conclusion of the novel, Ari’s parents sit down to talk to him – and tell him that he is gay. They have noticed Ari struggling with his sexuality over the past year and they sit him down to tell him that it is ok to love Dante. Ari denies everything and then, in an incredibly touching moment, finally accepts himself for who he is, as his family has already done. This moment is so wonderful and joyous and amazing, and I wish that we could see more moments like this in literature – and in the real world.
I could not be happier that I decided to pick this book up and give it a try. If you are looking for a book to get you into the contemporary genre that isn’t romance driven, this is it. If you are looking for a book that discusses diversity in the most wonderful way, this is it. If you are looking for a book that will make you laugh and cry and will warm your heart, this is it. This book had me crying tears of joy by the end because it was such a heartwarming and wonderful experience. Go give it a try! And Mr. Sáenz, wherever you are, please write more books because I will read them all!
When a book is nothing like what you expected – in the best possible way…..
…..blame it on the books.