Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante

The moment I was given this book to read I had a feeling it could be something special. The cover is beautiful, and it seems to sum up perfectly the sense of loneliness that pervades this novel.

Aristotle – known as Ari – is part of quite a large family, most of whom we never get to see. His older brother is in prison, his father is a Vietnam veteran who speaks little and Ari is used to spending a lot of time alone. Dante is an only child who is also used to spending time alone. The two boys meet in the summer of 1987, when Dante offers to help Ari learn to swim. For these two American-Mexican boys on the cusp of adulthood their friendship provides an opportunity to discover themselves.

We know from quite early on in the novel that Dante is gay. I loved the fact that for most of the book this is not the focus of their relationship. They talk, they fight, they have periods of not talking…but their bond is clear. I loved the way their friendship was portrayed, and there is a real heart-in-the-mouth moment during the early stages of the book (you’ll know it when you come to it) that I didn’t see coming. The boys’ relationship seems quite unsettled after this incident – perhaps quite naturally – and Ari in particular takes a long time to come to terms with his feelings. However, this incident did allow us the opportunity to get to know some of the family members in a little more detail and I found this part of the book really touching.

Saenz’s prose was captivating. I didn’t want it to end, and this is definitely a book I’d want to re-read.