Book Reviews

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

This is a spoiler-free review.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published February 21st, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.

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 wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”

I wanted to review another LGBTQ book on my blog for Pride Month, and I am so pleased that I wound up choosing Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe to be my next read.

This book is a modern day classic. There’s truly no other way to describe it. That’s simply what it is. I think this book will be talked about for years to come. I think it will be added to the top of reading lists in high school English classes, if it’s not already on there. Because this story is poignant, profound – and impossible to forget.

This novel tells the story of Ari and Dante, two gay Mexican-American teens living in El Paso in the late 1980s. It’s a tale about family, friends, falling in love, and above all else, growing up.

Sáenz’s prose is uniquely poetic. And while this novel handles heavy topics such as homophobia, the Vietnam War, PTSD and depression, it never feels like a heavy book, wholly due to the writing style of the author. Sáenz has mastered the art of knowing exactly how much to describe. His prose manages to say a lot by saying very little; coming across as a flowing, easy-to-follow narrative that effortlessly captures the deeper meanings artfully left unsaid but nevertheless present throughout.

The literary devices in this novel are plentiful and ripe with meaning. But the story never feels inaccessible. Instead, the narrative effortlessly takes hold of the reader, along with the two protagonists, and propels them forward until the end, which is everything a person could ask for – fulfilling, moving and so, so satisfying. This is a truly beautiful book that I can’t recommend highly enough. It is everything the awards on its cover boast of, and more. A thoughtful, touching and timeless read.

Have you read Ari and Dante’s story? What did you think?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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