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

This book was so so beautiful.

This book has won so many awards and after reading it, I understood why it gets so much praise. In actuality, it doesn’t have a “plot”. Not a main story or event that the characters center around. Sáenz tells the story of two boys, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana, growing up in El Paso, Texas during the 1980s. We follow their lives from age fifteen to seventeen, watching their relationship slowly grow, change and strengthen. Told from Ari’s point of view, who is sad and angry and can’t figure out why. It’s about him trying to love himself and others. It’s about the teenage condition and mentality. The prose sings. The dialogue is pitch perfect. The story is quiet and gentle, but it pulls the reader through the narrative beautifully.

Aristotle and Dante

Ari has loving parents, though his father silently bears the traumas of the Vietnam War, keeping him distant from his son. Ari’s sisters are a generation older, making him feel like the family mascot rather than an equal sibling. Most troubling of all, the family has erased all traces of Ari’s older brother, whom he barely remembers, who went to prison for a violent crime. Ari longs to know more and feels betrayed by his parents’ silence. Overall, Ari feels like his life “is a story written by someone else,” a sentiment I suspect many teens can relate to.

Ari has no real friends, nor does he want any, but in the summer of his fifteen year he meets Dante at the swimming pool, and Dante offers to teach him how to swim. They bond initially over their unusual names, but soon they are spending the bulk of their time together. We follow them through funny episodes, horrific accidents and tragic losses, watching their awkward and tentative friendship turn into the sort of bond that will challenge what Ari believes about himself and his capacity for love.

Let’s talk about why I loved it. Mainly, I loved the mood and tone. It made me feel mellow and warm. I liked that it was slow paced, that it felt like real life with small but important events happening. I actually really liked Aristotle, the main character, even though he’s kind of a weird. But the thing is he doesn’t want to be a weird. I loved the relationships, especially with his best friend, Dante. It was real friendship, not false or easy. I loved the emphasis on family. And the ending was beautiful. So beautiful. I really related to the main character, his struggles of culture and feeling lonely and regretting growing up. And when I didn’t relate to him I still empathized. I just wanted to hug Aristotle.

What bothered me (just a little), is the ending. I won’t give away the ending, but I kept thinking about it long after I finished the book. It didn’t end the way I expected it to, perhaps because of my own point-of-view and life experience. Yes, it’s happy and lovely and that’s what I wished for but I had the feeling that everything went too fast. Particularly the revelations about the past.I won’t give away the ending, but I kept thinking about it long after I finished the book. Highly recommended.

My rating : 4.5/5

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