Review: Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe

It’s a long title, but the book itself (which I will call A&D from this point on, because that’s a long ass title to keep rewriting) is about 379 pages so it is shorter than the title. I read it on my kindle, it was another bargin buy from amazon and I love it so much that when I have space/money (ie my own flat and a regular job) I want a gorgeous paperback copy to lend to people and pencil notes in the margin.

Guys, I highlighted about ten quotes in this book. It was beautiful. It was stunning. It was painful. I cried. Benjamin Alire Saenz did an awe inspiring job, truth. I should probably tell you what it’s about, now you know how much I loved it. I’ve added some of my favourite quotes as well, because it was kindle so no beautiful cover pictures today.

Aristotle is an angry teenage boy. Fifteen to be exact. His mum tells him fifteen is just a phase and she’s a high school teacher so she knows. But Aristotle is angry. He is sad, he is lonely and he is just angry. He doesn’t understand his father, still suffering from the war in Vietnam. He wants to know more about his brother, in prison and never talked of. He doesn’t fit in, he doesn’t have friends, and he doesn’t really try. He likes being alone.

“Not that I really believed in my mom’s phase theory. It didn’t sound like an explanation—it sounded like an excuse.”

Till one day, he goes swimming, and another boy offers to teach him how to swim. His name is Dante. He is beautiful and open in ways that Aristotle can’t seem to understand and they are drawn to each other. A summer is spent reading poetry, swimming, stargazing. Dante’s family is more open and talkative than Aristotle’s but they all get along incredibly well. Then there is an accident, and accident in the rain that changes everything, and Dante moves to Chicago for a year, experimenting with drinking, drugs, and girls. Aristotle stays behind, learns to drive, occasionally answers letters from Dante. They meet again the next summer. Dante, in that time, has largely come to terms with his sexuality.

Both boys are Mexican-American living in El Paso in the 1980’s. They are both loners, seemingly opposites but really, they are more similar than Aristotle likes to admit. The story is told from Aristotle’s point of view, and some of the chapters are about eight lines long. As the two boys who just don’t quite fit with other people in El Paso begin spending more time together, they develop a friendship that stories are made of, that lives are changed by. And through this friendship, Aristotle and Dante attempt to discover the secrets of the universe.

The representation is amazing. Aristotle is angry at the world and at himself and he can’t work out why. He lashes out, says things he regrets, has nightmares and a temper. He loves fiercely and deeply but he struggles to understand the family around him. No character in this book is two dimensional. Everyone is real. And Dante and Aristotle’s friendship is just so damn beautiful, even when Aristotle is freezing Dante out. Dante is just so innocent, I think the word is. He worries about the world as a child does, whereas Aristotle tries to see it as an adult would.

“And there wasn’t anything mean about him. I didn’t understand how you could live in a mean world and not have any of that meanness rub off on you.” 

The LGBTQ representation is just… stunning. The anger, denial, having to fit yourself into a society, the hurt and the pain that comes with coming out… it made me cry it was so amazingly handled. It felt like life. There was no big OMG CRISIS moment – it was full of big crises (like the accident) and little ones (they argued) but it felt like life rather than a story told for an obvious conclusion. Their friendship and entire relationship is sometimes funny, sometimes makes tears prick at the corner of your eyes – Dante makes Aristotle see the world in a different way.

“You know, discovering the secrets of the universe. Not that I thought I’d find the secrets of the universe in a Budweiser.”

Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.” 

All this time I had been trying to figure out the secrets of the universe, the secrets of my own body, of my own heart. All of the answers had always been so close and yet I had always fought them without even knowing it.”

These quotes are just so damned beautiful! And they just resonated with me and I want to file them away and never let myself forget them. Because its life. And life is a mystery and its painful and scary and exciting and somehow this book managed to sum all of that up…

I genuinely adored this book. The narrative was absolutely stunning there is seriously no other word for it. And finding a book as beautiful and painful as A&D while also fantastic LGBTQ representation? My heart can’t take it. I think this book is going into a folder in my heart marked “never forget”.

If you haven’t read it, you should. You really, really should!


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