Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Awards: Pen/Faulkner Award Winner, Michael L. Printz Award, Stonewall Book Award, Pura Belpré Award, Lambda Literary Award

What I liked:
I love these characters. I really got a sense of who Ari was because his personality was so well-developed and portrayed in this book. In typical teen boy fashion, Ari can’t put a name to his feelings and is at times a little overwhelmed by his emotions without understanding why he feels them. Ari’s relationship with his father seems realistic because of the emotional distance between them and I thoroughly enjoyed that once his father recognized that Ari wished to close this distance, he made small efforts to do so, teaching him to drive, taking advantage of their time alone, etc. Ari’s closeness with his mother is burdened by the silence surrounding his brother’s crime. While he does not idolize his brother, he does want to know more about him. I appreciate that Ari has no friends because it’s realistic for such a private, self-conscious and analytical person, particularly during the difficult teen years.
With Dante, I loved how his lightheartedness foiled Ari’s skepticism and how his feeling of alienation from his own heritage mimics Ari’s alienation from most of his family and the world. I loved Dante’s pointless games and his hatred of shoes. Dante is the enthusiasm and impracticality that we all need in our lives when we take ourselves too seriously.

What I didn’t like:
The final confrontational conversation between Ari and his parents felt contrived. It felt as though the author was trying to wrap everything up in a nice neat bow, but some things simply cannot be solved in a single conversation. I really wanted there to be some evidence that he and his father would still struggle to know each other. I didn’t find such open sharing from his father to be consistent with the character, and up to that point, I found his father to be very realistic.

Why I recommend it:
It’s an enjoyable read that wades through the awkwardness of the teen years, with its angst, confusion, pointless games, endless giggles and new experiences. It illustrates what true friendship is between two boys who are both in the midst of self-discovery. I found the characters to be well-developed, unique and relatable. The short chapters, scenes and sentences are consistent with the thought patterns of a teen boy, and make this book one that is easy to read in short bursts.

Post Author: Frances Wentworth

Writer, book lover, starter of many projects...INFJ Super Frances flies by the seat of her pants!