Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I’m continuing Latin@ week at alibrarymama with a book that’s become a classic just in the five years since it came out.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire SáenzAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Read by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013.

Fifteen-year-old Ari has no friends and an inner boiling anger that he doesn’t understand.  One summer day at the pool, he meets Dante, friendly and cheerful and refusing to be put off by Ari’s bad temper.  He offers to teach Ari to swim, and slowly, Ari learns how to have and be a friend.  Dante’s openly affectionate, bantering relationship with his parents is baffling to Ari, raised on silent affection and family secrets, including a refusal to talk about his jailed older brother.  And just as Ari feels like he might be figuring the friendship thing out, Dante’s parents decide to move to Chicago for a year.  Ari adopts a dog, learns to drive, asks his parents for a red truck – but none of these stop the nightmares that keep him from sleeping well or help him figure out how to write letters to Dante.

Though there are exciting events, this book is high on self-reflection with a slow, slow two-summer journey from friendship to romance – I would have liked a little more on the romance side, myself, but that may just be my incurable romantic speaking.  There are desert stars, underage drinking and weed use, running, swimming, poetry and art, and pondering what it means to be a Mexican-American.  It is beautiful and literary. It made me wonder (again) – when does historical fiction start?  This book, set firmly in the 1980s, is within the period of my own memory, but this time before emails and texting will likely seem foreign to today’s teens.

I’d heard many people rave about this book being read by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  He does a very convincing voice, reading in a flatter tone than I’m used to for narrators, but which grew on me as it fit so well with a boy trying to keep his feelings tamped down.  This is good for introspective readers, as well as providing lots of fodder for group discussion.

Sáenz’s new book, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, is out this month from Clarion Books.

About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
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5 Responses to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

  1. Akilah says:

    I like that there was more friendship than romance but that’s because friendship books are where I live. Also, I think it works really well for what happens in the novel, especially for Ari.

    • Katy K. says:

      Well… now I had to take a few days to ponder. You’re right that the friendship here works very well. I wonder if I would have felt differently if I hadn’t thought going into it that it was supposed to be a friendship story rather than a romance. I don’t think I wanted the romance outline – just maybe a little longer for them to be happy together at the end.

      • Akilah says:

        I think the friendship emphasis helps me feel like it’ll be more of a happily ever after (for now). That and the stuff with the parents.

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