Book Reviews

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

One summer night I feel asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke. in the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in through my open window. 

My hand reached for the dial on the radio. “Alone” was playing. Crap, “Alone,” a song by a group called Heart. Not my favourite song. Not my favourite group. Not my favourite topic. “You don’t know how long…”

I was fifteen. 

I was bored. 

I was miserable. 

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue night off the sky. Then the sky would be as miserable as I was. 

Also look how gorgeous this cover is  as well! Despite the stickers

This novel has been highly admired by so many. In fact, it has been awarded six different awards; including two best book of the year awards. I’m quite late in picking this up, but after hearing it explained in youtube videos and on blogs, I wanted to read it immediately. And I’m so glad that I did. 

The plot follows a lonely teenaged boy called Aristotle Mendoza meeting Dante Quintana. The two instantly become friends despite their obvious differences. There are several events that push the two apart and draw them back together. Throughout all this time Ari really starts to question himself and how he feels, including questioning his parents about his imprisoned brother and why they love each other. It’s a novel very centrally based around love, friendship and family. 

There is something just incredibly precious about this book. I couldn’t leave it alone. I picked this book up and started it, put it down to sleep and ended up awake at 2am finishing it in tears because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The writing style is beautiful and genuine, with the interwoven Spanish/Latino dialogue of both boys. I think that this is such an important aspect to the book because, as well as dealing with the idea of love, it also deals with the concept of identity. Whilst Ari is definitely more comfortable with his Mexican heritage, Dante sees it as being a hinderance in his life. Throughout, the two talk about being Mexican and what that means to them. In addition to this LGBT+ identity is focussed on two. About half way through the novel it is expressed that Dante thinks he might be gay, but suppresses it when his family move away and he tries kissing girls. Whilst Dante is talking about this in his letters, Ari struggles with his own sexuality, adamantly expressing that he couldn’t love him. 

This friendship is something that Sáenz introduces is very natural and the shift between friendship and relationship is so seamless that really it’s almost shifting throughout the novel. Both boys introduce the other to something new. Dante teaches Ari how to love being outside and the value of friendship as well as poetry, whilst Ari teaches Dante how to love who he is, and how to trust people especially when it comes to things that he’d once be very secretive about. But the joy of them really is just how free they are with one another and how they live alongside each other with no shame. There is no shame in either of them walking down the street without shoes, or loving someone. 

Their parents are also very interesting characters. Ari’s parents are slightly more disconnected; his father is rather closed off and neither will talk about their son who’s in prison. This does start to upset Ari when he feels that he can’t connect with them, after seeing Dante’s parents. They are both well educated and work, as well as both being incredibly loving and supportive. Although Ari’s mum does show him affection, Dante’s mother and father both show their affection physically, kissing cheeks and embracing a lot. This does cause a slight shift in their friendship at the beginning because Ari feels as if he doesn’t fit in with his family, but eventually they both grow to accept one another’s different family. 

I don’t remember being so emotionally affected by a novel since I read M. R. Carey’s “The Girl With All the Gifts”. I sat up at 2am and cried whilst thinking about all of the messages in this novel. Loving unconditionally and embracing life whilst it’s still there is just something incredible that this book reminded me of. The characters will stick with me throughout and I will definitely be re reading this in the future when I’m having a bad day. The end of this novel is just so satisfying and the final line just fills me with so much joy to read. I definitely recommend that anyone in a reading rut reads this, or anyone struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, suffering with bad friendships, or is just feeling sad. This book is sad in places, but definitely more of a pick me up. I can’t write enough good things about this book. It’s definitely one to read and experience for yourself. 

Total pages – 359

Total read time – untimed

Rating /10 – 9

Recommend – Yes 100%

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