Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Simon & Schuster • 2012 • 359 pages
Hardcover ($16.99)
ISBN: 978-1-4424-0892-0
Ages 12 and up

It’s summer 1987, and not quite sixteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari for short) is unhappy: angry that his Vietnam vet father hardly talks and his mother sometimes hovers; confused about the changes his body is undergoing, and tired of being a pseudo-only child whose siblings are more than a decade older. Ari’s a loner who feels out of step with everyone else. Could he be more different from new kid Dante?

Dante adores his parents and doesn’t mind saying so; he’s smart and artistically gifted; he seems absolutely comfortable with his body and completely uninhibited in his enjoyment of the world. And yet the two hit it off. Ari laughs more when he’s with Dante, and with him, feels connected to something. As summer moves on, the boys’ friendship develops in unexpected ways: Ari saves Dante’s life when a car loses control on a wet street, and even though both boys are injured, it is Ari who requires surgery on both legs and painful rehabilitation. Yet, Ari balks at being considered a hero. More unsettling is the fact that Dante reveals that he is gay, and that he has fallen in love with Ari.

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The year that follows tests their friendship and forces each of them to come to terms with who they are, both within the narrow confines of their families, and in the broader world around them.

Ari is Sáenz’s narrator, and his story flows so smoothly that one feels almost as though he is simply listening to Ari speak in the way and at the pace that Ari chooses. Life can be difficult; families sometimes carry painful secrets, anger may surge up in ways we can’t always predict or control, and love can be as hard to deal with as hatred and disappointment. This story is a journey through pain and fear, and back out again to find something better on the other side.

Coop Renner, Retired Librarian: El Paso Independent School District