Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two of the greatest philosophers — Aristotle and Dante have nothing to do with the story. This story revolves around a Mexican-American teen Aristotle Mendoza and his friend Dante Quintana. Aristotle (Ari) is a boy who struggles to accept many things in his life. As a teenager, he faces monotonous days where nothing much happens and he contemplates how he feels undeserving of all the good things that life has provided him with. One can say, Ari, suffers heavily from low self-esteem and prefers to stay in shadows rather than face the spotlight under any circumstances.
His introduction to Dante during one of his swimming classes changes his perspective one thought at a time. Dante, on the other hand, is a personality only few can dare to become. He doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind; his conversation with his parents gives us the feeling of warmth and comfort that he shares with them without any reluctance that most teens face.
Ari’s parents are loving and caring but fail to express their emotions openly to him. His father bears the pain of the Vietnam war as a soldier and his mother refuses to discuss Ari’s elder brother, Bernardo, who is in prison. Bernardo’s image disturbs Ari and he is deprived of any information that he desperately wants to know about him. Ari is haunted by the silence of his parents on topics that deal with their pain, and instead, learns to cope with his emotions in silence.
The story shows the transformation of Ari because of Dante. His friendship with Dante brings challenges that Ari at times refuses to face; which causes him more pain.
My mother and father held hands. I wondered what that was like to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.Aristotle
This book not only emphasizes the love that Dante and Ari develop in due course of their time but also talks about how parents can to a great extent affect the personality of their children with their behavior. Dante’s parents treat their child as a responsible person and treat him with respect and are always open to conversations however absurd it may seem. Ari doesn’t feel at ease when he has to talk about his feelings to his parents. Ari’s parents are necessarily not at fault since they both keep fighting their own internal wars whose effect can be seen in Ari’s character.
In the end, Ari realizes that most of ‘the secrets of the universe’ are simple and close to us yet we keep fighting without even knowing it.
It is a must read if you enjoy a simple yet philosophical story; it explores a boy’s sexuality and his journey in accepting various truths of his life and family.