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


Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.


I usually don’t read realistic fiction, or basically anything that could even remotely happen in real life. I prefer stuff that seems to be dreamed up at 4:30 in the morning after drinking all night. With some dragons. Anything else just seems extremely boring to me. I don’t know what made me feel like reading this but I just did and….. wow. I think I might’ve actually teared up during some of this.

The story was just really sweet and frustrating too. See, Ari(stotle), the main character is a loner for no other reason than that he doesn’t talk to other people and just can’t relate to them. He’s also kinda stubborn and not used to goodness or happiness. His dad is withdrawn, being back from the Vietnam War and his brother is in prison and never mentioned in the house. His mother is his only friend but she’s too much like a mother to be an actual friend to our sweet lonely little fifteen year old Ari. Ari lives in a poor Mexican neighborhood in El Paso, Texas. He’s bored with life and feels like he’ll never accomplish anything great. (sound familiar? this is usually when fantasy authors show up with their amazing magical world of which the protagonist is a long lost hero of).

He hangs out at the pool during the summer but being stubborn old Ari, he refuses to ask someone to teach him how to swim. But luckily for him, darling Dante shows up and teaches him without being asked and they immediately become friends. Dante is the opposite of Ari, he’s got a wonderful family with two caring parents, he’s not rich but well off and he’s into poetry, drawing and contemplating the universe. Dante is more sensitive than Ari and he acts like a pacifist while Ari likes fighting and is pretty indifferent to things. The two hit it off immediately and spend all summer together. You can’t help falling in love with both Ari and Dante. They both have such beautiful characters even though they’re so different and they’re friendship is so perfect and touching.  Even their parents become great friends. The depth of their friendship is just so amazing. Dante reveals Ari’s soft side and Ari provides the type of friend that Dante can’t find no matter how charismatic he is.

BUT once summer ends, Dante has to leave for the school year to go to Chicago. He doubts that Ari will still be friends with him when he gets back because of an accident that happened right before he leaves but he hopes.

Ari is still a loner when he goes back to school except these two girls like to bother him but in a way keep him company too. You can really feel how with Dante gone, there’s like a lull in Ari’s life. It’s more… flat, more dull, lifeless. Not that there’s nothing happening. There’s major character development going on but it’s just that you can actually feel the difference between Ari + Dante and Ari – Dante. Ari tries to live without Dante, even only replying 1 letter to every 7 of his. Good things happen to Ari, he gets a dog, a truck, a kiss, and a job. Those two girls are helping him kinda live more like a high school student and he tries to convince himself he’s happy but you can tell from the writing that this is definitely a lull in his life until Dante comes back and I applaud that brilliant piece of writing.

Meanwhile, Dante’s letters show that he’s happy and popular, going to parties and hanging out with friends but always always missing Ari. He’s also realized that he likes kissing boys and wants to marry one someday. Ari’s become more and more unresponsive, just going through a cycle of school, work and running with his dog. He’s definitely lonely, starting to drink and drive out of the city to stare up at the stars. But that all changes when Dante COMES BACK.

Surprisingly, Ari has conflicted feelings. He’s overjoyed but he’s also established a way of life these last nine months and it’s hard for him to cast it off.  It’s really frustrating because Ari kind of refuses to go back to the way life was last summer the way we all desperately want but Dante’s okay with that. He also gets a job and just hangs out whenever Ari can which is usually stargazing at night. Ari is kinda moody and he doesn’t like to be aroud Dante as much and you’re just going ‘why ari? Why?!’ They still hang out all the time but you still feel the pull of the lull, like waiting for something BIG to happen. And something does.

Dante gets beat up for being gay and Ari explodes. He comes out from behind this wall he’s been hiding behind and all his feelings burst out. He hunts down the guys that beat Dante up and beats the shit out of them. Once Ari has started releasing his feelings, all these confessions come out and what happens is kinda predictable yet somehow stunning at the same time.

The ‘Dante is the most important person to Ari’ theme is unmistakable and the ending makes you feel like the universe is all in peace. This story is just so touching and even though there are lulls where you know you’re waiting for something, it’s never boring. Once Ari isn’t bored with his life, neither are you. Every little bit of it adds to its depth. By the end, Dante and Ari are no longer just words in the pages of a book, they’re people that reside in your heart.

Rating: 5/5



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