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

Blurb from Goodreads

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

My Review

When I closed the last page on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I wept.
But they were not tears of sadness or despair.
They were tears of happiness. Of hope. Of love.

“There was nothing but darkness and sheets of rain and the awe of our silence. My mom held my father’s hand. Storms always made me feel so small. Even though summers were mostly made of sun and heat, summers for me were about the storms that came and went. And left me feeling alone. Did all boys feel alone? The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.”

This book had a purity to it. It was almost innocent. And yet it spoke of harsh truths. It spoke of learning to accept yourself. Of valuing yourself. Of realising that you are worthy of all that is good and great in this world.

It was disarmingly simple. The prose at times quite juvenile but then there were these moments of sheer wonderment, of beauty, of sadness and of love & hope that took my breath away.

I buddy read this with my friend Anu and we discussed at length the ins and outs of this book; its characters, its message, the writing style…

We seemed to be in agreement about many things and she provided me with some valuable insights that made me appreciate this book even more. I feel that this book was refreshing in how it didn’t fall into the same stereotypes and cliches as so many other YA novels.

The teen drama wasn’t overplayed; every plot move was subtle and deliberate.

The presence of stable family was a welcome change from the routine which firmly put the focus on the inner turmoil of Ari, the main character.

Both Ari and Dante, the lead characters, weren’t pigeonholed as the stereotypical high school outsiders by making them excessively anything. They were simply like you or I and therefore, eminently relatable.

I had a query however. I loved the character of Dante but I wondered was he too perfect? I asked Anu if she felt Dante was borderline ‘manic pixie dream boy’ and her analysis I feel was spot on…. The single person PoV from Ari’s perspective, to quote Anu, made Dante seem surreal and gave him that dreamlike quality. Because it’s always easier to view others as being better than us, as knowing who they are inside. And this story wasn’t really about Dante in the end. It was about Ari. About his view of the world and his view of himself.

I would have liked a little more fleshing out of the female side characters however. I feel there was an abruptness to Ileana’s presence in the novel especially.

This is a beautiful story of learning to see yourself through the eyes of those who love you. Of learning that you are worthy. It’s a book that has the ability to turn the coldest of hearts to pure mush!

A gorgeous coming of age story and highly recommended.

four stars

“As Dante was watching me search the sky through the lens of a telescope, he whispered, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.” That made me smile. “What are you going to do with all those secrets, Dante?” “I’ll know what to do with them,” he said. “Maybe change the world.” I believed him.”

Read and reviewed for Goodreads in 2017

17 thoughts on “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – Book Review

  1. Gorgeous review!! I finally got round to reading this recently (I it had sat on my shelf for nearly a year 😬) and LOVED IT SO MUCH. I totally agree though, the female characters could have been fleshed out more and Dante was a bit too good to be true. Although he was a total cinnamon roll haha. Here was my review of it:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “It was disarmingly simple. The prose at times quite juvenile but then there were these moments of sheer wonderment, of beauty, of sadness and of love & hope that took my breath away.” ~ I have to agree with this. I loved the book too! 🙂 Great review by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And so say I!!! Even when I was a teen in the 90s we didn’t have quite the array of YA that there is today. I think that’s part of why I still love reading YA even though I’m very much not the target audience!!! :))) xox


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