Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe reveals two tender stories of boys poised at the brink of adulthood, the precipice of change. Through Aristotle’s eyes, we witness first heartbreaks, questions of identity, and a struggle to figure out our place in the world.
This is the summer everything will change. First of all, Aristotle, or Ari, will learn to swim. Secondly, Dante will invent a game that revolves around tennis shoes. And thirdly, these two boys, with legendary names, will meet and have an altogether eye-opening dive into the power of friendship. Unsure who they are, where they’re going, and what makes them special, this is the beginning of something extraordinary, a journey, where, together, they might just discover one or two secrets of the vast universe.
Words were different when they lived inside of you (31).
One of the things that makes the pages fly by, is the conversational tone to the narration. Only a few pages in and you can hear Ari speaking to you: his wry humor, his vulnerability, and his challenges finding out who he is. There is a beauty to the writing in the way that the words are both honest and vulnerable, funny and poignant. We read sentences that betray Ari and Dante’s struggles with their ethnicity paired with conversations that dance around topics too volatile to speak aloud. At the same time, there are moments that make us smile and laugh aloud, interspersed with reminders that innocence and a deep caring are often, especially in boys, frowned upon, instead of fostered.
Both Ari and Dante are empathetic and compelling characters. For me, the nostalgic memories of feeling like I knew everything, when I was their age, only made me treasure the story more. Looking backwards made their lives, their memories, and their characters, even tenderer. In these moments, where we are convinced we know absolutely everything there is to know, the universe always seems to throw us a curveball, make us question, and acknowledge the utter mysteries that surrounds us.
I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand (140).
Onto the actual characters of Ari and Dante. They, in addition to their families, are some of my favorite characters that I have read in a long time. Their personalities, memories, and struggles showcase characterization done properly. Too often do I read characters who have no quirks, or those who are seemingly perfect. However, Sáenz’s characters are perfection in their imperfections: their limitations, mistakes, and inner conflicts.
Ari’s family, in particular, is an absolute gem. Each of them has their own demons, their own inside jokes, which makes us feel like we are part of their family. (Not to mention that we need more parents like Ari’s and Dante’s). Not only is this a story about Ari and Dante, but their families as well, as they comes to terms with the idea that truth can heal. What more can I say about Ari and Dante, except that they are so lifelike they could jump off the page. Their personalities are colorful, vivid, and lifelike.
This #ownvoices story does not merely demonstrate the power of friendship to uncover the potential of the world. Wrapped up with this moving message is the journey of two protagonists who struggle with issues of identity, of conformity, and family. It is a story about growing up, making friends, and expanding your horizon. You can pick up Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Amazon (US), and add it to Goodreads.
If you could make up a game, what would it be?
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