Title: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 21, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
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 had mixed feelings about this book. I had somewhat high expectations of it due to all the hype about it and the fact that it’s won so many awards, but I don’t think my expectations were entirely met.
There were definitely some things I liked about it, though, starting with the lyrical writing. Saenz’s prose had this almost magical feel to it, and the poetic style really drew me in at times.
I was also intrigued by Ari and Dante’s exploration of what it means to be Mexican. I thought it was really interesting how Dante wanted to seem “more Mexican,” even though Ari had a really negative idea of what being Mexican meant. To be honest, I found this discussion more compelling than the LGBT aspect of the book, though that’s what it’s known for.
I think part of why that was was I didn’t believe the LGBT part as much. Although Dante’s sexuality is made pretty clear early on, I didn’t feel that Saenz explored Ari’s sexuality as much, so when Ari finally makes his declaration of love, it felt sudden, even though I knew it was going to happen before I even started the book.
That said, I do think it’s encouraging that a book about two non-white gay teens has received so many accolades, although in my opinion there are better LGBT books out there. Books for LGBT teens are already few and far between, and novels featuring people of color are even more rare in that category.
So, although I had some misgivings about Saenz’s latest novel, I would certainly recommend it. It’s told from a perspective that doesn’t seem to get a lot of coverage in YA lit today, and it’s full of beautiful little moments that make this book worth a read on their own. Besides that, Saenz’s writing is quite unique and lyrical in its own way. This may not be one of the best LGBT books I’ve read for teens, but it did make an impact on me and I think it will have that effect on many other readers as well.