Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Overall Rating: 4 flames
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.
I’ll be honest, I went into this book not really knowing much about it other than the fact that it has really good reviews and that it has one a crap ton of awards.
I really wasn’t quite sure how I felt at the beginning of the story. The writing felt a little elementary and I found myself thinking “…this book won how many awards?” a few times. And I got real sick of reading the sentence “I laughed.” over and over again.
But this book is mostly dialogue and is an incredibly quick read. Once I got into the story, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. I lost track of the amount of times this book made me cry. My husband looked at me like I was a crazy person a few times, but there is something to be said for a book that can cause tears to roll down your cheeks not just once, but on several occasions.
One of the things I loved about this book was the presence of strong parental figures. In a lot of young adult books, parents seem to be fairly absent. These parents weren’t perfect, but they loved their children and were strong role models for them throughout the story. Some of the parts that made me cry the most had to do with dads crying. Because that makes me think of my dad crying, and well, darn it if that doesn’t turn me into a blubbering mess.
I just felt like this book was trying too hard. Set in 1987, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (even the title is trying too hard) tries to conquer topics such as:
- Coming to terms with your sexuality
- Struggling with your race
- Family drama (the main character’s brother is in prison)
- PTSD (the main character’s father was in Vietnam)
And I’m sure there’s more. I felt like a bit of a cynic at one point for saying “Ohhh that’s why it has so many awards. The author shoved almost every tough topic he could think of into one book.”
Also, two female characters were introduced and given a fairly heavy amount of importance for a while, and then they just *poof* disappear. I started to feel like they were just there to fluff up the middle.
I toyed with giving this book 3.5 stars instead of 4 because of the slow start in the beginning and the reasons listed above, but it really was a beautiful book. I bumped up the rating a bit just for the sheer amount of times that it made me cry and because I was just so darn happy for Dante and Ari at the end.
I would highly recommend this book – but I would stick to reading it at home due to the fact that it may cause you to ugly cry a few times.