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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of The Universe - Review by Becca, Teen Blogger

One of my absolute favourite summer reads is definitely Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, ever since I picked it up on a whim this time last year. It's certainly not one of my typical reads; it isn't packed with dramatic action scenes, evil villains, heroic main characters. Instead, it’s set in Texas, 1987, and follows two aging boys. This novel is a sweet, slow burn of a romantic coming-of-age story. A good comparison, perhaps, would be swimming in honey—sweet and heavy; some parts are light, some parts are dark. I'd imagine it quite difficult to claw your way out of a pool of honey, not unlike the difficulty of getting out of this book.

Personally, I found Aristotle and Dante to be a refreshing change from the typical boy-meets-girl, insta-love story that frequents young adult contemporary fiction. Between the poetically beautiful writing, the honest and real characters, and the numerous issues they're faced with, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a novel to remember for years to come.

The messages in this book are unmatched by anything I've read since. It covers not only the necessary topics in every good coming-of-age story, like friendship, trust, and family, but also some trickier ones, like racial identity and sexuality. Aristotle and Dante also features experimental alcohol and drug use. Another aspect I found quite interesting, one not often discussed in our society, is male gender roles, and how boys are expected to act accordingly. All subjects, controversial and not, are all handled in a mature way, with the appropriate amount of seriousness needed for the topics.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe follows two Mexican-American teenage boys, starting at age 15, in the summer of 1987, in El Paso, Texas. They meet when Ari, a bored-to-tears boy with a troubled family life, begins going to his town’s local swimming pool to teach himself to swim during summer vacation. There he meets Dante, and they couldn’t be more perfectly matched. When Dante teaches Ari to swim, their friendship flourishes. While it’s true they can’t relate to each other in many ways other than their ethnicities, they are both very excited about meeting another “weird name” kid. They truly complement each other though; where Ari is act-first-think-later with his senseless fists in instantly gratifying street fights, Dante carefully chooses each word in his poems and each shade in his sketches. The mismatched friends grow up together, in the confusing passage of adolescence—through injury, questioning gender and sexuality, their family and friend relationships, school, and hate. Together, Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe.

Not only has Aristotle and Dante been well-received by readers, it has also won numerous awards: the Stonewall Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT fiction, the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult fiction, as well as the Amelia Walden Award and the Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for Latino fiction, to name a few. It also has a 4.3 out of 5 stars rating on Goodreads, and Publisher’s Weekly called it, "a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame."

If this review has piqued your interest, then you’re in luck! The Halifax Public Libraries has copies of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in print form, as well as in eBook. It can also be found as an audiobook—which, funny enough, is narrated by Lin Manuel-Miranda, the Puerto Rican writer and composer of Broadway musicals In The Heights and Hamilton: An American Musical. In other Aristotle and Dante news, Benjamin Alire Sáenz recently announced the plan for a sequel, to be called There Will Be Other Summers. It does not yet have a release date, but I am certainly highly anticipating it!

I will be rating this book 4.5 stars out of 5. I think it deals really well with mature themes and isn’t afraid to face controversial topics. It’s also a really diverse young adult novel, which is unfortunately quite uncommon, and I love to support those books when they pop up. I’m also completely in love with Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s writing; he’s just so good at getting you to really feel what he’s writing. Aristotle and Dante is also a fantastic summer read—great since most of us in school are done our school year!

Teen Blogger


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