Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is many things at once, hence why I found it difficult to organize my thoughts and write a review. Although it might seem an easy-going, fast-paced story about the relationship between two boys, it’s much more than that: it’s their relationship with their families, historical backgrounds, culture and, most importantly, with themselves.
Focusing in parts on self-acceptance and repressed feelings sparkled with the uncertainty of ethnic and sexual identity, the novel portrays Ari and Dante discovering the secrets of the universe – not all the space and time and its contents, including planets and stars, but rather the inner universe of each character. While Ari is confused and his world is shaped by uncertainty, anger and repressed feelings, Dante is exactly how Ari wants to be but cannot, he knows what he is looking for, does and wears exactly what he wants to do and wear. Although they are the opposite of each other, there is some things that bring them together: loneliness and their “inner demons”.
The prose is quite simplistic, but it doesn’t fail to amaze and convey moments of sadness, love and hope that can take one’s breath away. One specific theme that is approached through this juvenile prose and that stood out to me is toxic masculinity. While one character feels completely alienated from the masculinity norms society established and boys and men perform, the other one stands in contrast to this masculinity refusing the specific acts of dominance and violence. This particular narrative is important as it promotes an idea that cannot be stressed enough: men and boys are vulnerable, emotional and they are allowed to express whatever they are feeling.
Overall, this is one of the few books (although I say this way too many times) that had me saying “I love this” or “this is quote is wonderful” at every other page. Having purity to it, it speaks of truths that are not only harsh, but identified in nearly every person’s life and it is a beautiful story of learning (and allowing) how to see yourself through the eyes of those who love you. I recommend it to anyone looking for a heart-warming book that can warm even the coldest hearts, to anyone looking for a cozy read with a lovely, inclusive queer representation.
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Format: Paperback|368 pages