Posted in Fiction, LGBTQ

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

You know you’re about to embark on a good book when one of the first sentences you read is “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult fiction book about two teenage boys discovering themselves…and the secrets of the universe.

For those of you who haven’t read it, before going into further detail about what it’s about, I wrote the reasons for why I would and would not recommend this book in the hopes that I’d spare you time in your decision making.

I would recommend this book if you like:

  • LGBT characters.
  • teenage protagonists…correction: smart mouth teenage protagonists to which their teenage angst helps develop the story.
  • questions for the sake of asking them, not answering them.
  • minority groups who are uncertain of their identity.
  • characters with a sense of emotional awareness who overthink the tiniest of events
  • strong character development, without it progressing too rapidly or forcing change for the sake of interest.
  • simple love stories.
  • sad stories.
  • a hint of mystery, but not to the point where it takes away from the main storyline.
  • family drama where they overcome society’s challenges.

I would not recommend this book if you:

  • lack patience. This story takes a while to unfold. If you want immediate action, you will be disappointed.
  • prefer passionate love scenes. This isn’t that kind of book. It’s simple and innocent.
  • don’t like introspection. The majority of the book is spent inside the mind of our main character.
  • are a grammar nazi. The book that I have felt like there were some missing words here and there (pg 120 for example). But really it was only 3 incidents that I caught.

If these notes fit your criteria of books you want to read, great! Come back and leave a comment with your thoughts. If it’s not what you like in a book, then thank you for taking the time to read my post, I’m glad I helped you save time.

For those of you who have read it, let’s discuss! 🙂

——–the below content will contain spoilers———

Within the beginning, we get an explanation of Aristotle’s (Ari for short) family. He has two older twin sisters and one older brother. His older brother is in prison and he feels like he has to be the good son. His older sisters don’t give him any information regarding his brother. No one talks about him. His father, a soldier of the Vietnam war, also remains speechless regarding his own demons. Ari doesn’t understand him at all, even though he desperately wants to. His mother, however, is the only person he feels remotely connected to. They have this relationship built on honesty, wit, and respect (I immediately fall in love with this mother-son dynamic). They understand their roles and don’t try to blur it.

Then, we meet Dante. Dante offered to teach Ari how to swim.  My favorite thought that Ari had was “If a guy was offering to teach me how to swim, then for sure he didn’t have a life. Two guys without a life? How much fun could that be?
I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.”

So now we know how Ari feels about Dante, but upon exchanging names, they bonded on their philosophical names. Instant friends based on this crazy coincidence. They swam together, suggested books and comics, had discussions, came up with stories about other people…you know, typical boyhood antics.

I like to think that swimming is a metaphor for life. See, before he decided to go swimming that day, he was saying that his life was not really his. He did most things because of his parents. He was proud to go swimming that day because it was his original idea, even if he didn’t know how to swim. So here’s this kid who barely knows how to float (live his own life) and suddenly, Dante appears in the picture to teach him how to swim (learn how to slowly become his own person, with his own emotions and own stories).

Ari is your typical Mexican American who doesn’t mind his identity so much but rather, dislike the characters around him. Dante is your typical Mexican American who has shame over being Mexican.

What made me fall in love with Dante was when Ari observed that “He tried not to laugh, but he wasn’t good at controlling all the laughter that lived inside of him.” That made me smile from ear to ear, it made my heart melt and it made me jealous. I can’t remember a time where I was so filled with laughter. It feels like a dream that everyone should strive to be.

What made me fall in love with Saenz (author) was when I read “That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable.’ And ‘friend.’
Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong, reading sentences like that is…home. There is no other word to describe that sensation.

The boys eventually met each other parents. The parents were happy that this relationship was developing because they’ve seen their sons grow up without making any real friends.

One event that made us realize how much Ari cared about Dante is when Dante was telling these boys off for killing a sparrow with a BB Gun. Ari was ready to beat them up if they dared touch Dante. This sparrow showed Ari how much Dante cared about things that no one cares about. That’s also when Dante knew Ari liked to fight, but it didn’t disturb him. That night, Ari had a nightmare about sparrows falling from the sky, hurting him. He became sick and had more of the same dream, except eventually he was fighting back. Flash forward a couple chapters later, Dante sees a sparrow in the middle of the road and he goes to help him out. That’s when a car suddenly turns the corner and Ari jumps in to push Dante away, damaging his own legs in the process. I like to think of the fallen sparrow and his inability to feel free. And in those dreams, how his desire hurts him and how strongly he fights back because he feels like that’s all he can do.

During the hospital, Dante gives Ari his drawing sketchbook (earlier in the book, Dante told Ari he didn’t let anyone see his drawings). Ari decided not to look at them. At this point, he wasn’t aware, but he was conflicted with his feelings for Dante. He has this thought that if Dante really knew him, he wouldn’t like him. So Ari liked to keep a field of protection around him and his emotions. He was upset that Dante gave him the sketchbook to begin with because he felt that Dante only did it because he felt responsible for the accident. Also, he was jealous of Dante’s ability to be so expressive.

There was a moment, in the hospital, where he saw his mother and father holding hands. He then thought “I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.” I felt like this would have been a great opportunity to use “secrets of the universe” to foreshadow the scene in the end. Get it? You can find the secrets of the universe in someone’s hand….Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe….in the end, Ari took Dante’s hand to hold. Get it?! Cute, right?

The next few chapters we’re introduced to more people, mainly because Dante moves to Chicago. His father got a temporary job there. So we meet some of Ari’s classmates, a potential lover, his new truck, new job and a new pet. We also receive letters from Dante telling Ari he’s experimenting with weed, alcohol, and kissing. In a letter, he tells Ari that he’d rather be kissing boys.

When Dante returned, they made some ground rules. Dante can’t kiss Ari. Ari can’t run away from Dante. Although Ari was okay with Dante being gay, Dante was not confident that Ari would stand by his side due to his sexuality. Later, Dante pretty much talked Ari into kissing him. Ari said he didn’t feel anything, Dante said he did. A couple more chapters later, we find that Dante winds up in the hospital because he was beaten up by a group of guys when he was caught kissing another boy. Ari, of course, not only stood by his side, he decided to punch the leader of the pack. What a loyal friend!

However, when his parents find out that he was violent, they start becoming concerned. They confessed that his older brother was in prison for getting violent and killing someone. After an incident where Ari instinctively punches the wall. His mom has a family meeting and here the father tells him some of his war stories. After, he tells Ari that he has to stop running from Dante. When he didn’t comprehend, he explained it’s obvious Dante loves him, but what he needs to face is that he loves Dante. When Ari became confused and asked why he was saying that. His father told him that “because I can’t stand watching all that loneliness that lives inside you. Because I love you, Ari”

Whoa! Take a deep breath, right?

I still need another moment.

WOW!

Profound comfort. I will admit, I cried…

We’d have a lot less LGBT related suicides if more parents had a conversation like that with their children. Well…there would be a lot fewer suicides in general if more people chose to love.

Anyway, the book ends with Dante and Ari getting together….very pg guys. They kissed. This isn’t Brokeback Mountain. See, not that much “passionate love”…just…innocent love.

I liked a few quotes that I think are worth blogging about. The first one is from his diary entry and says “The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.” This is relatable to anyone who was ever told that their way of loving is wrong. We learned to hide it up to the point where we don’t know how to effectively show it.

“I don’t know why I was thinking about all these things–except that’s what I always did. I guess I had my own personal television in my brain. I could control whatever to watch. I could switch the channels anytime I wanted.” This is so relatable to overthinkers! To people who think about everything!!! At all times! I remember laughing and appreciating the description of what goes on in our head.

Those are my thoughts for now. What were your thoughts on the book?

(featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12000020-aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe?ac=1&from_search=true)