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Book Reviews

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Review

I don’t know why this book got so much love.

Could it be because we don’t see many books with homosexual protagonists? Or is it because of the funny names and the ridiculously long title?

Anyway, 
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a coming of age story starring a mexican-american version of Holden Caufield named Aristotle -or Ari for short-. Ari is angry at his family because they pretend his older brother who’s in prison doesn’t exist. He’s also kind of a loner, until he meets Dante, a charming know-it-all who teaches him how to swim. And the rest of the story is just them getting to know each other and being teenage boys. 

That’s all.

I think this is the book with the smallest amount of things happening on it I’ve ever read. 

what_i_liked

  • Click the image if you want to buy it on Amazon. (I get a small commission this way :D!)

    It can be relatable, especially for minorities in the U.S. Dante, just like Ari, is a mexican-american teenage boy in the US, and I  enjoyed reading about him struggling with his ethnicity (also, being Mexican myself and living between Mexico and the US, I found his dilemma really interesting.) He’s also gay and loved and supported by his parents. Ari is also kind of relatable but in a way that feels like cheating, because his role is basically the same old “angsty misunderstood teenager”. I mean, everyone’s felt lonely or inadequate at some point in their lives. 

  • Interesting Family Dynamic. It is not something we see a lot, considering most parents in YA books tend to be absent or dead. Exploring Ari’s and Dante’s families was an interesting reading experience, and something I’d like to see more of. 
  • The narrator of the audiobook. I’m pretty sure I was able to finish this book only because I listened to it rather than read it, so I could listen while washing dishes or doing other chores. The audiobook was wonderfully narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think he made a great job with the voices for each character and I guess having Puerto Rican family helped with the few Spanish lines through the novel.  

what_i_disliked

  • Dante was the worst. I liked Dante at first because he was sweet and smart and supportive. But through the book he got more and more ‘unique’. He was not only a sweet boy, he was a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. He read poetry out loud and hated putting on shoes and swore he would discover all the secrets of the universe. I don’t know. I think his personality got really quirky, and he also became really pushy about his infatuation with a friend. And I hated that! (If you think it doesn’t sound as bad because they were two guys, imagine if one of them was a guy and the other a girl?? And the guy kept pushing the girl, telling her how much he wants to kiss her, even though she said she’s not interested. THAT’S WEIRD, HUH?).
  • It doesn’t have a plot. This is my main problem with this book. I FOUND IT TOO BORING. It had at least five chapters of Ari just going to school and having a job, without nothing else happening! Nothing at all. And it has some characters in the background that seem like they are going to have a role in the story, but they don’t. It’s just Ari and Dante and their parents. All the other characters are there to fill blank spaces. And as I said, the book is a coming of age story AND NOTHING MORE.
  • It was full of kinda-pretentious, kinda-unrealistic lines. You know the style I’m talking about. The kind of philosophical phrases that teenagers throw at each other only in YA books. I’m not a fan of poetic speech. At all. I also disliked the weird and repetitive conversations between Ari and Dante that mostly went like this:

We both smiled, then laughed.
“You’re a bad boy,” I said.
“You’re a bad boy too.”
“Just what we’ve always wanted to be.”
“If our parents knew,” I said.
“If our parents knew,” he said.
We laughed.

  • The ending. This paragraph will contain spoilers. JUMP TO THE ”YOU SHOULD READ IT IF” PART IF YOU DON’T WANT ME TO SPOIL THE END. The ending bothered me SO MUCH. So, through the book Ari struggles because he finds it really hard to show his feelings to someone else. But in the end, it seems like he doesn’t even know his OWN feelings. Why, you ask? Because his parents gave him a talk and told him “Ari, we think you’re gay and you’re in love with Dante”. And he was like “Umm, no. I like this girl at school”. And his parents were like “But last year Dante was about to die and you saved him, so you’re obviously gay for him”. (That’s not the actual dialogue, but my accurate representation). This ending bothered me because: A) Friendship exists! There are many reasons why someone would save a friend’s life if the situation permitted it. Not all of them involve being in love with said friend. And B) I think Ari would have known, or at least the reader would have noticed, if he really had romantic feelings towards his friend. Having his parents tell him he was gay (and in a way, telling YOU, the reader) was a weird way of ending the story. Also, in coming of age stories the characters normally discover things by themselves, without their parents telling them the answers.

you-should-read-it-if

  • You are looking for a YA book that represents minorities
  • You like John Green’s books
  • You want to listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda narrating an audiobook
  • You want to read a light coming of age story 

This article has 3 comments

  1. Isa (@sneirrbooks)

    I also felt like the ending kind of came out of nowhere. I’d expected it to be a slow burn romance but it wasn’t, there was no indication Ari liked Dante that way until he admitted that he did. I think the fact that his parents suggested it to him isn’t that weird, sometimes parents just see stuff like that. But I thought it was weird he didn’t at least have some confusing feelings about Dante before. I did enjoy the book, though; not much happened but I read it really quickly so it was a kind of mellow comfort read.

    • Celeste

      I agree so strongly with the slow burn romance part! That’s what I expected. That, or simply have Ari fall for someone else to make it more dramatic.. I don’t know, haha.
      You’re right that it could be a comfort read :).

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