Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
People have been telling me to read this book for years. Literal years. Probably since it released in 2012, but I’ve put it off and put it off. I don’t know why I put it off, but I regret it. This book is beautiful and honest and lovely. It didn’t hurt that it was read by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He could probably read the classifieds and I’d listen to it. That’s not the main reason I enjoyed this book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult novel that is mostly light, but gets heavy really quickly regarding racial and sexuality identity. This book took me a few chapters to get into, because at the beginning, Ari is a little bit obnoxious. Everything “sucks.” Realistically, that’s how most 15-year-olds talk, and it got a whole lot better once he met Dante.
I think that Dante is the most adorable character I’ve read this year. His entire persona just warmed my heart, from his openness about loving his family and life to hating shoes. I feel you there, kid. I don’t wear shoes unless required, so his lack of shoes made me smile every time it was mentioned. These characters felt very real to me, and I thought that their portrayal did a good job of showing their Mexican-American culture without making it a stereotype or info-dumping. Their families are incredibly different, but they have cultural similarities and wind up getting along really well, which is one of the great things about childhood friends.
This book started slowly, but as the boys become closer friends, it gets so much better. It’s beautifully written, and everything in the books happens for a reason, which just made it a great read.
I’m gonna warn you, since no one warned me about this – this book gets sad at several points, but it gets happier. There’s some hate-based violence and identity questioning, but everything turns out more or less okay. I just wanted to warn you.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe won the 2013 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Childrens/Young Adult books, and the 2013 Pura Belpré Award for Narrative. I loved this book, and I hope you will too. I can’t help but rate it 5 stars.
You can read an excerpt of Saenz’s next book, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, on Entertainment Weekly. It is scheduled to be released on March 7, 2017. Saenz is also in the process of writing a sequel to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which is titled There Will Be Other Summers.