The blurb is as follows:
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.
The story takes place in the 1980’s and introduces us to Aristotle (who goes by “Ari”) a somewhat sad, angry and confused 15-year-old boy whose older brother is in prison and whose father, a Vietnam veteran, is suffering from PTSD. Ari feels disconnected from the members of his family: his father won’t let anyone in and nobody ever mentions his brother as act as though he’s dead.
One day at the local pool, Ari meets another Mexican boy the same age himself, Dante, who offers to teach Ari how to swim. Thus begins a deep and intense friendship between the two boys.
Ari and Dante
The two boys couldn’t be more different: Dante seems to have it all together where Ari is confused and angry at being shut out by his family, but their relationship intensifies as they begin to discuss art, their Mexican heritage, their families and their relationship with their parents.
Each boy’s relationship with their parents is also quite different: Dante’s relationship with his parents is more open and emotional whereas Ari’s is more distant and withdrawn — although he does have a fairly good relationship with his mother and I enjoyed the banter between the two of them. His father was by no means a bad dad — he was just trying to deal emotionally with the demons from a horrible period in his life — a period that he simply did not want to talk about with anyone.
I have to say that I liked the way in which the author depicted the parents of the two boys. They are by no means perfect, but their depiction is positive and believable. I found this especially true in the case of Ari’s parents who were still trying to process their own pain and figure things out for themselves.
Ari’s Point of View
The story is told from Ari’s point of view, and we learn about his and Dante’s relationship though Ari’s eyes. Through Ari’s eyes, we see how his view of the world is more pessimistic than Dante’s, and though Ari does feel deeply, his emotions are much more guarded and secretive because of his pent-up anger and pain.
Through Ari’s eyes, we get to know Dante, who is much more optimistic and perhaps even leaning toward the naïve. Though Ari often feels as though he doesn’t quite understand Dante, he feels a special connection to the boy and is fascinated (and perhaps a bit haunted) by him. There’s definitely something about Dante that makes Ari see the world quite a bit differently than he had prior to their meeting.
Deeper Feelings Revealed. . .but it’s OK
At some point, Dante reveals that his feelings for Ari run deeper than those of mere platonic friendship and though initially taken aback, Ari decides he doesn’t want to lose Dante’s friendship.
The author did an excellent job of portraying what it’s like to be a teen and in the closet, and the courage it takes to make the initial step in coming out.
One example I loved was when Dante tells Ari how he’s considering coming out to his father:
”I guess I’m going to tell my dad. I have this little speech. It starts something like this. Dad, I have something to say. I like boys. Don’t hate me. Please don’t hate me, don’t hate me, don’t hate me.”
I felt that the author really nailed it.
The Slow Pace
This is not an action-pack thrill ride of a novel — far from it. Rather, it’s a slow-paced story that revolves around the feelings and thoughts of our two main characters. The plot was peppered with small but consequential events through which we’d learn a little bit more about the boys and their relationship to each other and their families.
Now I will say that there is one major event that occurs that changes the dynamic between the two of them and it’s interesting to see the interactions between them and their families after this event.
This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story of two boys, their discovery of each other and the world around them. It’s also about love, acceptance, courage and being true to your heart. It’s a powerful character-driven story with a lot of heart and found myself utterly falling in love with these two characters.
Their thoughts and actions also brought me back to my own teenage years, which may be the case for many readers. These two talked like teenagers and acted like teenagers, which made the book not only fun but that much more realistic.
As such, I really enjoyed the simple, sparse dialog between Ari and Dante and it was obvious that there was a lot left unsaid between the them. In this way, I found it fun to “read between the lines,” and the short chapter format almost made it seem as though we were peeking into Ari’s personal journal.
I love Benjamin Alire Saenz’s writing: it’s clear and evocative, with just the right amount of description.
And that Ending!
And OMG that ending — it was perfect! There were definitely tears of joy (and surprise!) as I read the last few pages of this incredibly moving story. This novel is as thought-provoking and hopeful as it is emotional and sobering, and I enjoyed every single moment of it.
Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe was a subtle blow-me-away kind of book and I’m still mulling it over. It’s the kind of story that will make you tear up in some places and smile like an idiot in others.
I heard a rumor that there’s going to be a sequel to this novel and if that’s the case, I’d be the first to run to the bookstore and snatch me a copy. All that being said, I loved this phenomenal story and gave it 5 stars. Recommended!
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