Review of "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe"

Review by Catherine Baty

Saenz, B. A. (2018). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

Aristotle “Ari” is a loner in 1987 El Paso when he meets Dante at the local pool. Both about 15 years old and Mexican-American, they still come from different home lives. Dante helps Ari to discover the worlds within books that Ari feels are beyond his intelligence. Over the summer the boys get to know each other. Ari learns that Dante is leaving in 6 weeks. His dad is going to be a visiting professor in Chicago for a year. When Dante walks into the middle of the street to save a wounded bird a car suddenly comes around the corner, straight for Dante. Without thinking Ari dives at Dante, pushing him out of the way of the car. Ari wakes up more than a day later casts on both his legs and one of his arms and in so much pain. Ari hates all of the help that he needs, he hates his parents and Dante and he hates himself for hating them, but the hate dissipates a little as he heals. One week before Dante leaves, he tells Ari he loves him, but Ari doesn’t know how to respond. All of his anger and fear are still all mixed up inside him. Over the school year the boys communicate via letters, Dante writing a lot more than Ari. Through some experimentation with kissing girls, Dante discovers something he already knew. He likes boys. Summer comes again and Dante comes home. Ari’s aunt dies and he and his parents go to Tuscon to sort things out. When they get back Ari learns that Dante was beat up while his was kissing a guy. Ari finds one of the guys that beat up Dante and breaks his nose. Ari and Dante’s friendship becomes strained until Ari’s parents sit him down and help him come to terms with his love for Dante. With this deeply hidden information now in the light, the two families go bowling together. After, Ari takes Dante on a drive and they kiss.

This unabridged audiobook in mp3 format was read by Lin-Manuel Miranda. There are no background effects besides the music at the beginning, but they are not needed and the sound quality is excellent. His stage experience is obvious as throughout the reading his pronunciation and volume were always on point. He also utilized pitch and speed while reading to differentiate between speaking characters. These voice effects not only helped to engage the listener, but also aided in understanding of the context. In parts of the book, Spanish phrases and words were used. Though my Spanish is practically non-existent, I was able to understand the sentiment of the words based on Miranda’s inflection and the surrounding context. I found myself to be completely lost in my listening experience. In this piece of realistic fiction, subtext is king. It’s clear that the parents in the book are wiser than the kids. They see where Ari and Dante are headed long before the boys do. The author’s ability to build honest and believable characters helps the reader to empathize with all of the characters, even when they are being stupid. The coming-of-age theme mixes well with the likes of family, culture and sexual discovery. Nothing feels wedged in or out of place. Dante’s struggle with being Mexican American feels true. Saenz presents two points-of-view from young men growing up Mexican American. Though this, he respectfully shows differences and similarities in Mexican American family life. The settings all match the trappings of a high schooler’s life, and help to create a full world for the reader to explore. It’s his style though, that really ties everything together. Phrases like, “I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.” were everywhere. The parts I read in print, I read much faster because I wanted to know what happened so badly, but the parts which I listened to allowed me to rest on the words and have a more intense experience. Either way, I felt every emotion through Saenz’s words, and I recommend this book in print and audio formats for any YA collection.

Michael L. Printz Honor 2013
Pura Belpre Author Award 2013
Stonewall Book Award 2013
Lambda Award 2013

“This moves at a slower pace than many YA novels, but patient readers, and those struggling with their own sexuality, may find it to be a thought-provoking read.” – Contributor, Booklist on January 1, 2012

“Told in first person, Ari’s narrative and characters’ dialogue advance the story. Sáenz is a master at capturing the conversation of teens with each other and with the adults in their lives. The novel is character-driven, the pacing is slow, and its issues require a mature reader. ” – Shelley Glantz, Library Media Connection in May/June 2012

“While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.” – Betty S. Evans, School Library Journal on February 1, 2012

Gather with other books with LGBTQIA+ characters, like

  • Lundin, Britta Ship It ISBN 9781368003131
  • Jones, Adam Garnet Fire Song ISBN 9781554519781
  • Howard, Greg Social Intercourse ISBN 9781481497817
  • Mitchell, Saundra All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages ISBN 9781335470454

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