Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
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.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages and I finally picked up a copy a couple of weeks ago. First of all, this cover is gorgeous – I almost don’t like all the awards plastered on it because it takes away from the lovely border. Still, those awards were well deserved – this book was beautiful.
Words were different when they lived inside of you.
One summer, Aristotle meets Dante at a swimming pool and they become inseparable. They spend nearly every day together and, despite their differences, form a deep bond. At one point, Ari even saves his new friend’s life; while he’s embarrassed at being seen as a hero, he can’t escape Dante’s gratitude…until Dante and his family move to Chicago.
I had learned to hide what I felt. No, that’s not true. There was no learning involved. I had been born knowing how to hide what I felt
While the story revolves around the two boys, there are a lot of other strong relationships represented throughout the book: Ari’s mom who worries that he will end up in prison like his older brother; his father who lived through the Vietnam War and came back emotionally scarred; and Dante’s parents who are just wonderful in general (especially his dad who Ari thinks of as being genuinely kind).
I don’t really know what else to say about this book without spoiling anything. It was beautifully written – Ari’s narration has a poetic edge to it and he gives us a lot of information and insight into the characters just by their actions. Of course, I love how diverse it is – the boys are Mexican-American but Dante feels less connected to his culture than Ari because, I think, of his more privileged upbringing (his parents are a professor and a therapist whereas Ari’s mother is a teacher and his veteran father is a postman). And the coming-out plotline is handled well; my only complaint would be that the gay characters are quickly accepted by other important characters without any friction – I’m not saying that’s impossible, but I’d imagined it would have been a bigger deal.
I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.
I think it’s up to each reader to discover the secrets of Ari and Dante’s mini universe for themselves. It’s worth a read…even if it will probably make you cry (at least a single tear).