Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

April 21, 2017 Book Review, Young Adult 2 ★★★★

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2012
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

I’m honestly not sure how this book evaded me for so long! I only heard of it a few months ago for some reason, despite it being a few years old and having rave reviews. I’m so glad I picked it up because what a wonderful coming of age story about friendship and discovering who you are.

This is the story of a teenaged boy in the late 80s, Angel Aristotle, or Ari as he prefers to be called, who is sort of a loner and not entirely sure who he is. He knows he is Mexican American. He knows he has great parents despite his father who is sometimes lost to his memories of the war. He knows he has a brother is prison that no one will talk about. But he doesn’t know who he is. He sort of comes off as hard and uncaring when it comes to others but he didn’t even see himself clearly because his automatic response to those in need was always to protect. He doesn’t care to have many friends but he meets a boy like him who isn’t like him at all. Dante is sort of the opposite of Ari at times. He is much more outgoing and soft where Ari is hard. Nevertheless they develop a friendship and this book takes us through the journey of finding their way on their own and together. Through accidents, long distances, new friends, jobs, dogs, family life, and love, the book hits so many important life moments that felt realistic and true for these characters and their ages as well as the time (80s).  I absolutely adored their friendship and the silly moments with shoes and watching the stars in the back of the truck to the heavy issues like discovering one’s sexuality. This story spans over a year of their life and a lot of things, good and bad, happen to them during that time. But they always found their way. My favorite aspect was the family life shown for both boys. Dante’s parents are the sweetest to each other and their son, even to Ari. And Ari’s parents have a few issues that plague them from the past but I loved how they go through a sort of journey themselves. So much love and so much support was shown from both families.

I am so thankful this book ended up on my radar! I see the author is working on a sequel and I couldn’t be more excited!


About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention.

In The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life’s ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert’s austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity’s capacity for both generosity and cruelty.

In 2005, he curated a show of photographs by Julian Cardona.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Sara @ Forever 17 Books

2 Responses to “Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz”

  1. Kelly @ Here's to Happy Endings

    I have heard nothing but good things about this book – even more so now that another book by this author has been released. I’ve had a copy of it for ages now, but for whatever reason keep forgetting about it so I haven’t read it yet. I’m super glad to see that you liked, it though! Great review!
    Kelly @ Here’s to Happy Endings recently posted…Someone Like You by Sarah DessenMy Profile

  2. Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages

    Aha I read this a while ago and I remember absolutely loving it! It was so well written and I loved the characters and the slow developing romance and the whole coming of age aspect which I AM SUCH A HUGE SUCKER FOR! Thanks for this great review Sara and so good to hear you enjoyed it!

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