Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

3 STEPS TO BECOME ME, THOMAS:

1. Obtain a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

2. Read the book.

3. Fall in love. Fall in love with the writing, the characters, everything. Read past midnight, read in school, read everywhere and all the time. Slam the book shut and whisper-scream oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. At the end of the book, allow a single tear to run down your right cheek and say a silent prayer of thanks for the fact that you are able to read at all.

Perhaps I’m making this book seem more dramatic than it actually is. It’s not dramatic at all, in the typical sense. There are no overtly sentimental Nicholas Sparks plot twists, no super sexy erotica Fifty Shades of Grey style, not even an ardent declaration of love via Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This book is about two Mexican-American teens trying to find their way in the world, but before they do that, they find each other – Aristotle and Dante, the former a self-doubting silent guy, the latter an expressive, fair skinned swimmer. We experience the story from Ari’s perspective, from the first time he met Dante at his local swimming pool.

I’d never really been very close to other people. I was pretty much a loner. I’d played basketball and baseball and done the Cub Scout thing, tried the Boy Scout thing – but I always kept my distance from the other boys. I never felt like I was a part of their world.

Throughout the book, Aristotle and Dante are exposed and layered, continually growing more complex but also becoming more bare. Their coming of age story is shown beautifully. What seems like a simple story about friendship is a simple story about friendship, but there are profound themes woven in and the quality of the characterization is simply breathtaking. Dante, a lover of poetry and a passionate crier, reminded me of myself so much it hurt, while every ounce of Aristotle’s emotions – his confusion, his longing, his hate – resonated with me.

I sometimes think that I don’t let myself know what I’m really thinking about. That doesn’t make much sense but it makes sense to me. I have this idea that the reason we have dreams is that we’re thinking about things we don’t know we’re thinking about – and those things, well, they sneak out of us in our dreams. Maybe we’re like tires with too much air in them. The air has to leak out. That’s what dreams are.

Benjamin Alire Saenz has poetic prose. There aren’t many compound sentences or large SAT words in this book, but every word impacted me. Sometimes the shortest sentence flooded me with feeling. Every description of Dante’s laugh, every time the boys would call each other weird, every moment they spent together – it felt like I was there, experiencing their friendship and their bond.

Have you ever heard that saying, if there’s a book you want to read but it’s not published, write it yourself? I won’t stop writing, but Saenz has accomplished that for me here. Saenz dedicates this book “to all the boys who’ve had to learn to play by different rules.” As a homosexual Asian-American living in Virginia, I’ve had to learn to play by the rules of my parents, my society, and most importantly, myself. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will speak to Mexican-Americans, homosexuals, tom-girls, book nerds, loners, etc. Essentially, it will appeal to everyone who’s ever felt different, who’s ever felt like they weren’t sure of who they were. Highly recommended for all.

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16 Comments

Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

16 responses to “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

  1. Such a long title! Yet, another book to add to my hold list at the library. You really know how to make someone want to read a book :)

  2. This book has been on my reading list for a long time. Now that I know you give it five stars, I am going to have to get my hands on it FOR SURE!

  3. I. Must have. I. Must read. Lottie’s right you know how to swing those words! Brilliant review :D

  4. Great review! I just finished the book myself and was doing my Goodreads review when I found your blog. I absolutely loved this book. It was beautiful, sweet and sad, and the family meeting at the end of the book made me cry.

    • Thank you! I’m glad that you loved the book as much as I did and I hope that it continues to get great coverage from bloggers on Goodreads, WordPress, etc.! The last fifty pages or so had me in awe/crying/wanting to throw my hands in the air and sing, so I empathize with you.

  5. I have just now managed to read this book. Thomas, I was blown away. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making me look it up. I’m not like you…I don’t have any reason to resonate with the characters (except some nerdiness and loner-tendencies), but the writing blew me away. What I like the most is how the relationship is woven into everything else – it involves two boys, but it’s not in-your-face, confrontational homosexuality. There are too many books that seem like they include homosexual relationships either for shock value or just to prove that they are accepting. But this is…so perfect. It’s there, but it’s quiet, normal, beautiful – just a part of their lives, like everything else. The relationship is also consistent with what I’ve seen in real life – the best relationships build slowly, stumblingly out of friendships. The emotions, from hate to love and everything in between are so real, so fitting. Aristotle and Dante is a beautiful book and I am happy to have read it.

    • You have no idea how happy it makes me that you enjoyed this book upon reading it partially from my recommendation. I agree with all of your words, the relationship between Aristotle and Dante is just… so, so beautiful. It’s not ostentatious or shimmery or flamboyant, but carefully woven and crafted with the utmost care in terms of characterization and emotion. I am glad and grateful that you read it and loved it; this is first book that came into mind when I was deciding which book(s) I would bring with me to college.

  6. It was indeed mostly to your credit that I read it. I had seen it, but hadn’t been overly interested. But your review piqued my interest and put it on my list. Someone else’s recommendation provided the reminder I needed and boy am I glad! It is beautiful…that simply seems the best word to describe it.
    The choosing of books…I hated that part. By the end of last semester, I didn’t have room for any more on my shelf….sadly, I have had to acknowledge that practicality of an e-reader, simply because I don’t have room for my shelves of books.

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