Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
This book has so much representation I might just have to happy-dance. Not only are the two main characters and their families people of color, but there are several gay characters - and none of them are portrayed badly! Plus, aside from being wonderful examples of diversity in literature, all the characters are layered and interesting. Dante and Ari are a bit too immature for fifteen at the beginning of the book, but they get more believable after their birthdays.
The entire book gets better the more you get into it, really. Most of my thoughts on it were gibberish and "awwww's" for the first few hours after I read it. I'm still not entirely sure how to convey my feelings for this book except to say that I really, really love it. I absolutely adore Ari and Dante, their story, the way Sáenz writes - let's just say it's not hard for me to imagine why Aristotle and Dante won all the awards on its cover.
On the other hand, I can definitely see why some people don't think it quite lives up to expectations. Especially in the first few chapters, the book reads more like a middle grade novel than a YA one, and the dialogue i occasionally stilted. Still, those are relatively small problems. There was much more that went right with this book than wrong. I can't guarantee that you'll love Aristotle and Dante, but I can assure you that I most definitely did. Subtle, profound, and fun to read, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book you should definitely give a chance.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.