Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 21st 2012


“I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”

Aristotle is a loner, he has no friends and he may as well be an only child. May as well be because his sisters are both adults with their own lives and his brother is in prison. Dante is a quick witted intellectual. When the two boys meet at a pool they being forming a friendship to last a lifetime.

This book is beautiful in a way. The writing was very poetic. Unfortunately there was quite a few repetitive phrases that started to feel a little tired. The writer could have found another way to phrase some of Ari’s thoughts instead of using the same foil for all of them.

Between the plotline with Dante and the plotline with Aristotle’s brother it’s very hard to find a dull moment. There is an element of mystery woven in through all the scenes depicting Dante and Ari’s relationship.

Speaking of the relationships in this book they’re all fantastically woven. Never does it feel like the book is suddenly dropping a relationship upon you. This book also had a lovely showcase of positive family relationships, even when working through the hard things. It’s rare parents are given such real depth in young adult novels.  From the main relationship between Dante and Ari to their relationships with their parents and minor characters everything feels organic.

There was a bit at the end about how romantic love was somehow stronger than friendship love that was a bit of a put off. In fact there’s barely any positive friendships in the novel, which is a problem romance novels tend to run into. Dante and Aristotle’s deep connection did make up for it interest wise but it made their world feel smaller somehow.

In fact despite the relationships being well written the characters were a bit of a problem. They felt flat.  Aristotle himself was a bit of a complex character. He jumped from mood to mood, from love to hate to irritation to love again. It was a little disconcerting. In strings of conversation it was hard to distinguish which character was talking because of how similar the voices were. Characters seem very quick to jump to extreme emotions as well, this goes for Aristotle, Dante and their parents.

There were several scenes that felt completely out of place and unrealistic. The main boys feel awkwardly written. It’s the sort of book that focuses on the main cast so hard that it damages their ability to feel real because the world they exist in is so flimsy. The relationships progress well but the characters barely feel like real people and it does hurt the novels impact terribly.

While I did admit that the writing is poetic it’s not always a good thing. At times the writing feels clunky. At times it feels like it’s trying too hard to be something deep and beautiful, so hard that it becomes a parody of itself.

It’s easy to see why a book like this would win awards. It deals with some difficult subjects without letting the writing become too dark or gritty. It’s a good book. Beautiful even, but there are definitely things I would have wanted to see done differently.


Read this if you’re a fan of: The Book of David


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