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Here’s One More Secret About the Universe

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a gorgeously-crafted portrait of two best friends exploring their identities.

Here’s One More Secret About the Universe

BOOK REPORT for Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

NOTE: This book is the upcoming FYABC pick for May 2015! Want to join a FYA book club or start your own? Head on over to the book club page to find out more.

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Yay x 2
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Straight Up With a Twist of Poetry
Bonus Factors: Diversity, LGBTQ, Awesome Grownups
Relationship Status: BFF

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

What a great cover. The “doodles” and interesting typeface layered over the truck parked at dusk are beautiful – and actually have to do with the story – while not being juvenile or pandering. If you have a newer copy, it’s also covered with awards.

The Deal:

This is the story of two unlikely best friends – Dante is open, optimistic, confident, and talented. Aristotle – Ari – is not, or thinks as much. Ari’s older brother is in prison, he’s the youngest brother of several much-older siblings, and his father suffers from Vietnam-era PTSD. Dante's parents are warm and demonstrative with both him and Ari. When Ari meets Dante, the two unusually-named boys see something in each other that the other lacks.

There's nothing I can say to do this book justice, so...just read it, you guys.

BFF Charm: Yay x 2

I absolutely loved Ari and Dante. Both of them felt like real sixteen-year-old boys going through some heavy stuff. I wanted to hug them, but mostly I just enjoyed watching them figure everything out on their own.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Is there or isn't there something between the two boys? Or is there something between each of them and a couple of girls? There are a few incredibly nice moments either way -- nothing that will melt your pants, but I bet it will melt your heart.

Talky Talk: Straight Up With a Twist of Poetry

Sáenz’s prose is deceptively simple, yet lyrical. Even when he’s just expressing basic statements, like “being sixteen sucks,” he writes it in a voice that rings true. Ari and Dante are neither perfect, poetic specimens of sixteen, nor are they crazy crude for shock value. Dante is particularly eloquent, but it’s in an awkward and painfully self-aware way; Ari is gruff and reserved. I loved the way that Sáenz was able to capture that liminal state of being sixteen or seventeen – on one hand, the boys are desperately struggling to be adults and find their identities, and on the other, they are the very definition of young naiveté. (I mean, they think adults know what they’re doing. Aw.)

What struck me about this book is how the simplicity of the words lets the character portraits shine through. For example:

“We sat, drinking our tea and watching the rain fall on his front porch. The sky was almost black and then it started hailing. It was so beautiful and scary, I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.” – pg 103

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Ari and Dante are both of Mexican-American descent, living in 1980s El Paso, Texas. Ari describes himself as “darker, and not just his skin tone.” Dante, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like he’s a “real” Mexican. As the book goes on, we watch the boys struggle to define what a “real” Mexican is, and whether that label helps or hurts their developing identities.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

The theme of identity and otherness is repeated in Sáenz's exploration of sexuality. How do you know who you want to kiss, and what it’s supposed to feel like? Can you love your best friend without being in love with them? Does everyone feel this way? Sáenz does a phenomenal job of depicting what it’s like to be a teenager and not know what it all means.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Grownups

At least three out of the four parents in this book are just lovely human beings (and the fourth is lovely in their own emotionally-stunted way). Sure, they hover and worry, as many parents do, but they’re also accepting, supportive, and committed to raising good children. This is reflected in how the boys just commit small acts of rebellion instead of big ones.

I particularly loved these exchanges between Ari and his mother:

“Mom, you’re hovering. You’re going to make me say the ‘f’ word. You really are.”
“Don’t you dare say that word in front of me.”
“I swear I’m going to, Mom, if you don’t stop.” pg 136

“Do you think I’m mean?”
“I think you’re strict. Too strict sometimes.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not.” I clutched at my crutches. “Someday, I’m going to have to break some of your rules, Mom.”
“I know,” she said. “Try to do it behind my back, will you?” pg 171

Casting Call:

Mark Indelicato as Ari Mendoza

Diego Boneta as Dante Quintana

Relationship Status: BFF

Book, I’m not sure if I love you or if I’m IN love with you, but it doesn’t matter. You're so good and we resonated so well, I can’t picture a time where you won’t be in my life.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought my own book because I think it’s so damned good. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one.  Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is available now.

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the FYA Book Club selection for May 2015!

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, and thrifts for vintage everything.