In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle (or Ari) meets Dante one summer at the pool. They become close, which is unexpected for Ari, who isn’t used to having friends. Ari is angry a lot of the time, and grappling with becoming a young man, and with the fact that his brother is in prison though he doesn’t know why. As his relationship with Dante develops, however, he learns things about himself and the world he didn’t imagine.
Both the main characters are fantastic. Ari is prone to melancholy and anger, while Dante’s more positive. His kind view of the world serves as a good contrast, though there is also a sadness attached to him. The way these two interact and play off each other is fascinating and wonderfully written. Their conversations are by turns funny, touching, and painful. It’s a complex relationship Sáenz has crafted, and I loved reading about its progress.
The other characters, particularly Ari’s and Dante’s parents, feel well fleshed-out and explored. They have their own arcs throughout the novel, which is, to me, somewhat rare to see done so well in young adult novels. I’m very fond of all these realistic, lovely characters.
In the end, I really enjoyed this book. The tone is definitely melancholy, but the themes explored such as love, family, growing up, race, and sexuality are portrayed thoughtfully. And ultimately, this is a bittersweet, hopeful, beautiful book.
Overall rating: 8.7/10