review · young adult

Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Another secret of the universe: sometimes pain was like a storm that comes out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour, could end in lightning and thunder.”

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Blurb: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.”

I’m a firm believer that you can learn a lot about someone by their favourite books. After all, they are favourites for a reason. For a few years I’ve watched a booktuber by the name of renontheroad whose favourite book is this one. Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe is not short of its critical acclaim with four in total including the Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction and the Michael L. Printz Award.

The story follows a Mexican-American boy called Aristotle who lives in El Paso in the eighties. He is obsessed with the world and everything it has to offer; he wants to know all the secrets of the universe. Struggling to adapt to life without his brother – who is shunned by the family – the endless possibilities of the future and finding his identity and footing in the world. Aristotle meets a boy called Dante at a swimming pool and their friendship blossoms from there.

This book is a slow burn and more about taking the time to reflect on the small things in life. Meaning plays a very big role in the story as it’s something that Aristotle is constantly searching for. While it felt almost tedious, it could be said that the sluggish pace is reflective of real life; not everything is eventful all the time. Another aspect of the story that incorporates this is the romance. Like most real-life relationships it slowly builds up and, as the story is narrated from Aristotle’s point of view, there aren’t any real indications of his feelings for Dante apart from him speaking more often about him. He doesn’t really notice and process his feelings until it’s pointed out to him.

The writing style is poetic but borders almost on pretentious at times. Aristotle is so fascinated by the world and almost resentful of Dante at times by how satisfied he is with his life.

I listened to the audiobook version because it was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda and I think this took away from my enjoyment. As a narrator, he didn’t do a good enough job of differentiating between the voices so it was hard to tell which was speech and Aristotle’s internal thoughts. I wonder if I might have had a better experience by reading the book rather than listening to it.

A book that held a lot of promise but was ultimately a let-down for me.

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