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

Ari didn’t understand a lot of things. He didn’t understand his mom sometimes. He didn’t understand his dad a lot of the times. The universe was a complete mystery, full of secrets.

Ari and Dante wanted to discover all the secrets of the universe.

But what can Ari do when the biggest mystery of the universe is himself?

ari and dante


So good. So, so good. I really, really liked this book.

I related so much to Ari, it was kind of scary. I feel like I  learned so much about the intricacies of human life through him. How difficult it is to grow up and to live life.

There is no plot to speak of. The first part of the book did feel dry because there wasn’t much happening and it dragged on a bit but as I read on, the first part is actually a great set-up for the rest of the novel. We got to see some amazing character development. And some raw emotions.

The writing style may irritate some people because it is very repetitive and relies heavily on character interaction but I didn’t mind. I actually found it refreshing because it was short and to the point. It showed me that you sometimes don’t need long, flowing sentences to tell a story.

Ari gave off a Holden Caulfield-vibe: depressing, going through the angst of growing up. But I like Ari more than Holden. Ari is very fragile and tough. It’s not exactly like he’s only tough on the exterior but he’s tough on the inside as well. He’s extremely loyal and single-minded. He loves so fiercely that sometimes it gets too much for him and it turns to hate. Toughness turns to vulnerability. Vulnerability to toughness.

I think Ari is a beautiful character. Despite having a bleak view about himself and the world, I think that that is what makes him so incredible. Ari still manages to find some pocket of beauty in the universe, but like he’s unaware that he’s doing that.

That afternoon, I learned two new words. “Inscrutable.” And “friend”. Words were different when they lived inside of you.

With Dante’s arrival, Ari changes. He doesn’t change dramatically which I appreciate. But subtly:

Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. Not in my world, they weren’t.

Dante helps, not exactly with making living easier, but something that you can be in awe of. He helps Ari open his eyes to the universe around them and not just to how dark it is but how it can be inscrutable yet dazzling at the same time.

SPOILER ALERT!!

Family is deeply woven into this story which I loved. Both Ari and Dante have parents who love them a lot and this fact grates on Ari. I think it’s because all of this love he receives scares the crap out of him. In a way, it’s unconsciously giving him ideas on who he should be: a beautiful, smart boy but he feels like he can’t live up to those expectations. He fears disappointing his parents.

I know there was a reviewer on Goodreads who was dissatisfied with the ending between Ari’s parents and Ari. But I think it was appropriate in this case. Ari knew, deep down, that he was in love with Dante but he was afraid to face it. He likes to keep things inside and despite having all these feelings inside of himself and belonging to him, he doesn’t want to own up to it and would rather hide. Part of that is because of his culture as a Mexican. Part of that is also because of his family and their boundless love for him. Since family is an integral part of his life, I think it was important for his parents to be the ones to tell him that “we know you’re gay. But we don’t care. We will always accept and love you. Now it’s time for you to accept yourself.”

 

SPOILERS END.

Ari’s obsession with rules contrasts with Dante’s idea of rules. Dante has rules but he breaks them and he makes them his own. Ari’s rules have to be resolute and he can’t stand the thought of breaking them. It’s one of the reasons that’s stopping him from facing himself. But the universe has no rules. It’s infinite; rules don’t exist.

The universe isn’t ‘out there’, it lives within us. The people we love, share in our own personal universes.

Do Aristotle and Dante ever discover the secrets of the universe? No, they don’t. And, I don’t think the universe is meant to be discovered. It’s too vast for us. But we can understand the world that is us. The bridges that connect our personal worlds together. The ecotone.

It’s okay not to understand the bigger things.

We just need to discover the secrets of our universe.


This is a beautifully written book. I can’t stop saying beautiful but it really was. And that ending…oof.

‘Your smile is back.’ That’s what Dante said.

‘Smiles are like that. They come and go.’

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8 thoughts on “Review/Discussion: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

  1. I absolutely LOVED this book. I had trouble at the beginning because I purely didn’t know where the plot was going…it felt slow?? But by the end I was rating it 5-stars and just lapping up the beautiful writing. I LOVE how short and crisp the sentences was and Ari, omg, Ari….he was so relatable. The ending was super sweet. 😉
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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  2. Girl, this is such a beautiful review! I think you’ve captured the essence of this book PERFECTLY. And I must agree. Ari was such a well constructed character–and definitely a beautifully and realistically built one.

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  3. Your review was so beautiful! I actually thought the beginning was perfect, not slow. It was so chilled and relaxed, I read a few paragraphs a couple of times. I think Ari was an AMAZING character and his thoughts were so simple and kind of relatable. He is always so angry and sad without knowing why and I think that is how most teens are. But, I felt like his relationship with Dante at the end was unnecessary. I thought this was a story about two guys that can be extremely close friends without being gay. When i see guys around my school, they look too scared to be close because they don’t want to be assumed that they are gay. It was cute, I guess but I perfer the friendly bromance. Nevertheless it was an amazing piece of work.

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    1. Thank you for saying that. That’s a good point about bromances. I was half-hoping it would be a bromance and half-hoping that it would result in something more because there was this strong connection between the two that I felt surpassed friendship.

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