Review | Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Don’t shoot me for what I am about to say: this is a good book, but I didn’t love it. 3.5/5 stars

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz cover

What it’s about: 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.

My take:

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I liked the characters, the plot and the mix of Aristotle’s mundane (and often confused) thoughts with the more lyrical passages. It has won awards for representing more diverse characters than those often found in YA fiction and this praise is undoubtedly deserved.

However, although Aristotle and Dante contains some touching moments, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was trying too hard. Often the narrative was straight-faced and incredibly earnest when a lighter touch would have been more effective. At times it made me think of performances by actors who have clearly taken the role because they want an Oscar.

That said, my rating would have been 4 stars (which is very good), but then the final two chapters happened.

[I AM ABOUT TO SPOIL THE ENDING. PLEASE SKIP AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK]

The whole novel is narrated first-person by Aristotle. We have been deep inside his head, sharing his thoughts and feelings for well over a year. And yet, in the penultimate chapter, when his parents sit him down and tell him he’s gay and in love with his best friend – two earth-shattering thoughts we have never seen him entertain before – he struggles for about half a page before accepting all this and proceeding to stroll off to some sort of happy ever after ending?! Now, I understand narrators can be unreliable, but if Aristotle has indeed been in deep denial, burying his thoughts/feelings and so not sharing them with us, wouldn’t he need to take more than a few minutes to come to terms with them?

Before we got to the final few pages, I was so happy that we were being presented with a strong friendship between two young men, one gay and one apparently straight. I would have liked to hear about how their friendship continued to grow as they matured without having Aristotle suddenly discover he’s gay so he can be Dante’s perfect romantic match. It’s just all too neat and happens too quickly to be convincing.

[SPOILERS OVER]

I understand why so many readers love this book. The first half, in particular, contains some wonderful, touching moments and the characters are appealing. I imagine if you’re on a journey of self-discovery yourself, it may really strike a chord with you.

Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it for fans of YA personal growth/unlikely friendship stories. Just try to ignore the hype and go in with realistic expectations!

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul
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6 thoughts on “Review | Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

  1. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 21st October 2015 | Art and Soul

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