And being alone made me want to talk to someone my own age. Someone who understood that using the “f” word wasn’t a measure of my lack of imagination. Sometimes using that word just made me feel free.
–Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz
AUTHOR: Benjamin Alire Saenz
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction
RATING: 4/5 stars
BACKGROUND: Aristotle is a troubled, young teenager who desperately wants to have more communication and/or knowledge about his brother, as well as a more open relationship with his father. Dante is a shy, bright teenager who is extremely close with his own parents. Dante and Aristotle do not have much in common, but their friendship proves to be one for the ages. They come together to really understand many of the mysteries of transforming from a child into an adult, as well as the secrets of the universe.
THOUGHTS: Aristotle, or Ari, was a completely relatable character. I know the trope of the angsty teenage boy who is angry at the world is overdone, and personally, I got bored of it when I first ran across it in The Catcher in the Rye. However, I found a breath fresh of it in the character of Ari, who is not only deeply troubled by the lack of understanding from his parents, but also profoundly sad. He has the kind of sadness that is perfectly poetic, and perfectly understandable to those of us who have harbored it.
Dante is that wiry, smart-ass, bright kid that cares too much that makes you want to root for him from the very beginning. He is also unapologetically honest, which is not uncommon for teenage boys. He and Ari make for an unusual pair, but one that fits. Their chemistry throughout the book was unbelievable, both as friends and as what they end up in the end.
There is the beautiful element of Mexican culture intertwined throughout the book, and also relevant cultural issues that come up. This includes traditional Mexican views on homosexuality, crime, family, and masculinity. The idea of being a partial Mexican or half Mexican due to the possession of certain character traits does surface, and it makes for an important point about what culture should and should not have a lasting impact on.
I believe the prose was written completely beautifully, but a couple of plot points kept it from the full five-star rating for me. I found that the timing of the novel was not exactly to my liking; I felt that the end was very rushed. I also thought that it was strange that, for a coming-of-age story that beautifully depicts family relationships and friendly relationships, the main discovery that the protagonist makes about himself practically had to be force-fed to him by adult authorities. However, this was a small complaint on my part and was really a non-issue for the majority of the book.
Also, if you are into audiobooks, Lin Manuel-Miranda reads this particular audiobook, which is a joy because his voice is capable of so much. There are also two instances into the audiobook where you hear Lin express disinterest in Alexander Hamilton, which is just the most beautiful irony ever.