Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Posted July 4, 2013 by Stormy in Books / 9 Comments

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante

Original Publishing Date: February 21, 2012
Length: 359 Pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Obtained via: Bought
Format Read In: Hardback
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A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

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.
from Goodreads.


You know art that is so beautiful it almost physically hurts? Like what I might imagine it would be like to be able to gaze on an original Van Gogh painting or to witness an astounding moment in history? That type of pain that stems from beauty? Yeah, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe made me feel that type of pain in droves.

This book. THIS book. I cannot express how much love I have come to have for 350 pages. I knew around page 40 that this was going to be a 5 star read unless something made the whole story drastically turn south, but instead, each page only reaffirmed that this was a very good, very rare book. Those medal stickers on the dust jacket are there for a reason, one I think this book FULLY earned.

The writing in this book is astoundingly beautiful. My favorite writers are the ones who can say something so profound in a simple way that lets it ring true for a reader in a way that lets the words stand on their own, without too much flourish. The writing is enchanting, and walks a fine line sometimes. I think in less skilled hands some of the things that Saenz writes could have come off as foolish or trying to hard, but since the narration is from Aristotle’s point of view, it works perfectly.

Aristotle and Dante are the kind of characters who make your heart ache a little. Ari(Aristotle’s nickname throughout the book), has a lot of pent-up anger stemming from his questions about his brother. I got the feeling that Ari never felt quite sure of himself, always on thin ground and wanting to figure out the rest of his life before he had really lived to be wise enough for that. Dante, on the other hand, comes across as so self-assured as first, and as the book continues the layers to each character just deepen and they discover more about themselves and each other.

Along with Aristotle and Dante come their families. And I have to say, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a portrayal of families I like more than in this book. There are no absence parents, but no perfect parents either. What IS present is really believable family dynamics. This is Aristotle’s story, and Dante’s story, but it’s also their families story too. Aristotle doesn’t understand his Dad, and while this was a sub-plot, I really enjoyed getting to know Ari more THROUGH his relationship with his father.

Perhaps the reason this book works so well, the writing, the characters, the plot, is because it engages readers so easily. It’s the type of book you want to savor a bit, to really interact with it while you’re reading. As I was going along, my Dad(who was in the room while I was reading), even remarked that my emotions were on my face. I laughed, I (almost) cried, and sometimes I even shook my head. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of those books that become like an old friend–comfortable, but beautiful.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book(minor spoilers):

“Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

“I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn’t have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. “Dante’s my friend.”

Even though summers were mostly made of sun and heat, summers for me were about the storms that came and went. And left me feeling alone.

Did all boys feel alone?

The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.

Final Impression: I’m pretty sure my gushing review is proof enough, but I LOVED this book. It made me feel emotions in a way not many books do. It’s artistic and simple at the same time, with characters who have all these layers of complexity that just make me like them more. Add in excellent family dynamics and beautiful prose, and I was sold on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 5/5 cupcakes.



5 Stars

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9 responses to “Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

  1. I LOVED Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe!!! Best book I’ve read this year, and it’s without a doubt in the top ten books I’ve ever read. Fantastic review!!! 🙂

    • stormydawnc

      Was it not just a BEAUTIFULLY written book? I think Saenz is one of those writers who could write about grocery shopping and I’d be ENTHRALLED. I mean, the story was WONDERFUL and I loved it, but the WRITING. Yes, I think this one is a top ten books for me too!

  2. Oh my god I’m so happy you liked this! I cried so much when I read this, and it wasn’t even unhappy crying. I think I just cried because I loved this book so much. Yay! So, SO happy you loved it. XD

    • stormydawnc

      Same! It just made me FEEEEEL so much. It was just so beautiful & a little sad(But not too much–quite happy at a lot of places, really), and just. . . ugh. I don’t have the words.

  3. This book just snuck up on me! Lately I’ve been seeing reviews around, thinking it’s just not for me, but the gushing reviews are making me think otherwise. I’ll definitely check this one out now! Great review 🙂

    • stormydawnc

      This book probably wouldn’t have been for me either–I think it’s the WRITING that really sealed it. Like, reading this plot written by someone who wasn’t as good with words might bore me, but it was JUST done SO well. Like I really don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so strongly towards a book(that wasn’t part of one of my favorite series).

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