Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the sort of book that you want to tear through in one sitting. As soon as I was done, I knew I’d be reading it again at some point. The writing is beautiful and flows from beginning to end, and this is easily a book that a non-YA reading adult can enjoy as much as teens can. It touches on falling in love, sexual orientation, male friendship and cultural identities. It is never shallow, yet it doesn’t throw its depth in the reader’s face in a sort of I’m smarter than you way.
Our main character, Aristotle, begins the novel very angry. He’s sad, confused and furious about his older brother being in prison and because of how his parents won’t tell him any of the specifics. His father, a war vet, is distant and depressive and it has led Aristotle further into loneliness. This alienation won’t let him grow close to anyone. When the novel begins, he hasn’t allowed himself to make any friends. He can be a jerk at times, but he doesn’t know how else to be because of all the feelings that are swirling around inside him. He wants to find out about his brother and decides to pursue the mystery of what happened.
After he meets Dante, the two of them fall into an easy friendship. Dante is a wonderful character, full of energy and light and humour. He allows Aristotle to begin viewing the world in a new way, a more open way, which leads to him tentatively making other friends as well. There is no grand plot to this novel, no big events, just two young men going through the business of living as they each find their way in the universe. If you are interested in reading a realistic story that is filled with both loveliness and heartbreak, please pick this one up.