Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2012
Genres: young adult, glbtq, romance, contemporary
This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.
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.
Last month Maryam chose to read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, together with Kara and Lyn! However, Maryam didn’t manage to finish in time, so there’ll be TWO FF this month!
(Also, please remember that discussions sometimes lead to spoilers. While we try very hard to stay away from them, it still happens from time to time. If you haven’t read this book, be aware of potential spoilers during the discussion posts. You can’t say we didn’t warn you!)
Lyn: So, Maryam, what made you pick this choice for us this month?
Maryam: It seemed unique. To be honest, I’ve never heard of Aristotle and Dante, and I was curious. Plus, cover love DEFINITELY.
Lyn: The cover is lovely! You just mentioned in a private chat about character traits, did you want to start with that?
Maryam: YUP. Ari seemed a bit grouchy. Like a grumpy old man. I mean, his whole self was like darkness and moody. I thought I would hate him actually, but I didn’t. In fact, his moodiness kinda offset Dante’s happy-go-lucky self. DANTE WAS TOO HAPPY, WAY HAPPY THOUGH.
Kara: You guys, I really liked this book. But I don’t remember much except for major events because I read it so long ago. I remember I really liked the characters though. I thought there was way too much dialogue and not enough writing, however. And I expected the book to make me super emotional, but I really wasn’t, and that makes me feel bad because I know Maryam cried. BOO.
Maryam: DON’T FEEL BAD.
Lyn: I liked the book and the characters but I was a bit worn down by the constant onslaught. I was a bit upset, but I wasn’t devastated. So don’t feel bad, Kara. As for Dante and Ari, I was able to connect to Ari because I felt closer to his anger. The only thing that bothered me was the lack of empathy for the animals, such as the birds, but he was trying, However, he was really torn up inside, and it was showing. So I liked Ari quite a bit more. I saw more of myself reflected in him. The anger and repressed emotions and weariness.
Maryam: Oh, I get what you mean actually. But for some reason, I connected with Dante more. I guess, he was super sunshine-y and really really happy, he made the book more lively for me. I guess that was why I got emotional? It’s like the book was going fine, it was really great, really happy and BAM something bad happens. And I was just there like NOOO. So yes, hence the waterworks. But I love how Dante was happy. He made ME happy while reading the book.
Kara: I really, really loved Dante. I was distressed when the thing happened. Really distressed. But I don’t know what it was about this book that didn’t connect with me. Like I really appreciated the relationships and themes, and I think it’s a SUPER important book for teens, but I missed the emotions that I personally need to feel for it to be a GREAT book for me.
The one thing I really have to say and I did somehow remember I wanted to mention this when we finally did chat was how much I LOVED the support of the parents in this book. I felt like this book subverted a lot of tropes–you normally would NOT expect parents to be supportive of Ari and Dante’s relationship in young adult fiction, but they were, and I loved it. I loved seeing something different for a change. Parents are usually so terrible in YA, you know?
Lyn: I loved that this book was about the build up and the development of a relationship. I didn’t know it was a gay relationship book, so I was thrilled at the end, and yes, it was about time we got some affirmative parents who faced their own backlash. I thought that it was important that the book wasn’t centered around the constant discussion of if Ari was gay, but the slow realization that he was in love with his best friend. I have never seen a gay book do that before. It was just wonderful.
Kara: Just want to say one thing quickly before I forget. I so agree, Lyn. I haven’t read a lot of gay romances (I am hoping to change that) but I loved that the focus wasn’t on his gay identity but rather on who he was as a person and discovering himself and the fact that he was in love with Dante. Because that is how real life works. 😀
Maryam: I knew this book was gonna be LGBT but I started doubting myself about Ari at the start. I was like “oh no, what if this book ends with unrequited love?” And I agree. I love the fact that being gay wasn’t the focus of this book. In fact, I think this is the first LGBT book in which I wasn’t really focusing on the gay part. I was just squealing over the fact that Dante loves Ari, you get me? And and family was important. That made me cry too. I was shocked and gleefully surprised at how the author let both families have their ups and downs, but in the end they’re still there to support the boys.
Lyn: I am glad that y’all understood. Sometimes I get tired of seeing glbt characters stuck in this tiny little identity box.
I loved how romantic love didn’t fix everything as well. It helped both boys, and actually the families, but there were some other factors happening. When Ari’s dad talks about the war, I did have to put the book to the side then. Ari was really hurting for so many different shades of love. Romantic love was just one part of a bigger picture.
Kara: Oh man. The war stuff was one thing I DID connect with, for obvious reasons. It didn’t really affect Dan that way, but it could have and I have experienced shades of PTSD myself (not related to the war but from other things I have suffered), so I can’t even imagine. That is so hard on families.
But yes, characters are more than their gayness, their fatness, their disabilities, their illnesses. They are people with interests, personalities, loves, likes, dislikes. I think it’s important that when writing characters, authors keep that in mind. It’s nice to see a story about gay characters and it doesn’t focus on their gayness.
Maryam: I guess I didn’t really connect with the war part 🙁 I think it’s because I don’t really have a personal attachment to it, but I do understand about the part where Ari’s dad became super distant. I cannot imagine that happening to anyone, it must hurt. Also, I love that the author didn’t just leave Ari’s family like that, with the huge fact about Ari’s brother, hanging over their heads. Like I said, the family had ups and downs but at the end of the day, they tried, you know?
Lyn: The brother issue was so hard. Overall, it was hard watching Ari bottle up his anger and resentment. I kept expecting him to just lose it eventually. I truly felt horrible for him. I am a bottler, and it was almost too much to watch someone else do it.
Maryam: OH OH I love the ending. I love how it just ended like that, it felt satisfying and romantic, and I pretty much spazzed when it ended HEHE. Do y’all feel the same?
Lyn: it was sweet and touching and just infinite, you know?
Kara: Yeah. I liked it. It was a quiet, sort of subtle book, and it ended on the same note. I understand why it won so many awards. I rarely like the award winners, but this one I did.
Maryam: YAS, infinite is the right word 😉 and I definitely didn’t think I would like it either, cos usually those award kind of books are pretty much BLUEGH. But not this book hehehe.
Lyn: it is about time I didn’t want to burn an award winner to the ground. So, final ratings? 3.5 here. Liked it, did not like all the pot and random masturbation questions thrown in.
Maryam: 5 stars for me HAHAHA. I really really loved it. I think it was one of the best books read in 2016 for me hehe
Kara: 3.5 for me as well. It was ALMOST a 4, but because it didn’t stick with me as much as I thought it would, I dropped it a little. Still really liked it though!
Have you read this book? Do you agree with our thoughts?
Next month’s is Lyn’s pick: Written in Red by Anne Bishop