Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division: New York, 2012. ISBN 9781442408920
Dante and Ari can’t be any more different than they already are. But when the boys meet, they bond, and together, they redefine each others’s worlds, learning that there is more to the universe than themselves. A powerful coming of age novel.
This book got me right from the start.
“For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.” (pg. 2)
In terms of technical writing, it was very beautiful and well done. The pace is slow, but not slow enough to but you off, but to make you understand and get to know Ari and Dante, our main characters. The character arcs are really well developed. The book is about two boys trying to figure themselves out. They both show a decent amount of growth from beginning to end.
The book does a good job of addressing homosexuality. For Dante, it’s pretty easy for him to come to terms with. Not so much for Aristotle. In fact, it’s his parents that really clue him into it. That’s another thing I love about this book, the parents are so supportive. In the LGBTQ+ community, it is uncommon (among the people I know) to have supportive parents. The scene where Aristotle is talking with his mom and dad makes an impact.
“If you keep running, it will kill you.”
“You and Dante.”
“Me and Dante?” I looked at my mother. Then looked at my father.
“Dante’s in love with you,” he said. “That’s obvious enough. He doesn’t hide that from himself.” (Pg. 348)
This conversation was wonderful. For Ari to have parents who want to help him open up to himself makes his journey that much easier. We see the doubt that Ari has and the struggle he’s having with coming to terms with his feelings. This self doubt really makes you feel for him. Even with parents telling him it’s okay to be gay, he’s still struggling with what’s proper or traditionally done.
Another thing this book does is showing that masculinity doesn’t mean not showing no emotion. In fact, the men in this book seem to be more emotional than the women portrayed. For example, Ileana. She is very emotionally detached when it comes to Ari, whereas later in the book, we see Ari and his dad having a real conversation where his dad starts crying with no shame. It’s also more profoundly shown in Dante’s willingness to be completely honest with his feelings. Toxic masculinity is one thing that really feeds homophobia. I think the book did a good job of showing positive masculinity.
I also love that both main characters were Latino.
From Kirkus Review:
“Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author’s gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships.”
“Sáenz writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other…those struggling with their own sexuality may find it to be a thought-provoking read.”
From The Horn Book:
“Ari’s first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance.”
Other books by Benjamin Alire Saenz:
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life ISBN 9780544586505
Last Night I Sang to the Monster ISBN 9781933693583
He Forgot to Say Goodbye ISBN 9781416949633
Other LGBT books:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green ISBN 9780525421580
Pantomime By Laura Lam ISBN 9781509807772
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan ISBN 9780142500590
How can we enforce positive masculinity as opposed to toxic masculinity?