REVIEW: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My rating: 

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.

“Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”

The title itself was enough to make me want to pick this book up. I mean come on... Don't you think the title's catchy? Two boys named after two famous people (Dante Alighieri and Aristotle) and they were going to discover the secrets of the universe. How awesome is that? I honestly have no clue what this book was about when I picked it up. I just thought the title was good, and the cover the looked good too.

Who doesn't want to discover the secret of the universe? I'm sure everyone does. But how will we discover that secret? How will we know where to look? How will we know if that's the secret? There are many hows, whys, and whats. But the answer was very simple. And it occured to Ari, just at the time he was least expecting it.

I'm not sure there was any specific plot on here. Or there is, but it's not an overly complicated one I think there was no plot, but there was a point the author was trying to make as to why the author wrote the book. This book was more of a message, than a story.

I love coming of age novels, even if I am way over that age, I still love reading about them, and remembering when I was at that age myself. I like pondering about whether I will be do the same things the characters did or if I will be going the opposite. I like comparing my experiences with the experiences of the character's have. With this book, I have so little to compare myself to, because one, I'm a girl and not a boy, and two, I' didn't have a really close friend when I was growing up. I didn't have one close friend that I could consider my childhood bestfriend. So reading about Ari and Dante's story was really interesting for me. I liked how their friendship developed, how it had its ups and downs, and how eventually, it lead to something more. Something beautiful.

The writing was really fluid and simple. I was never really a fan of words that use too many big words that the real meaning gets lost somewhere in the middle. I hate those. I tend to put those books down. I think I've said this multiple times on some of my reviews, a good book doesn't have to have a complicated plot, complex characters, and brain-damaging words. For me, a good book has to have a story that has meaning. It doesn't really matter if the words used were simple words that even elementary kids use, what matters is how the author used those words to express the message he wants to convey to his/her readers. I think this was one of the strength of this book.

The characters were loveable in their own way. Dante and Ari were as different as night and day, but somehow together, they connected. Ari was more skeptical and angry. He was angsty about life in general. He doesn't understand a lot of thing, he even mentioned that he was also a mystery even to himself. He'd also rather be alone than be with anyone else, which is why he doesn't have any friends, except for Dante that is.

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.”

Dante was different from Ari. He was more open. He was more open to making friends, to changes. He, like Ari, could be stubborn at times. It was very difficult not to love him, because of how honest he was with his feelings and thoughts. There were times that his thoughts were too honest, which made Ari uncomfortable at times, but I get that, I totally get why. He was curious, and he wasn't ashamed of that.

We don't get to know much of the other characters. Their parents were there to support them both and was so happy that they did. They were the type of parents kid's should learn to be appreciative to.

Final Ramblings

What was the secret of the universe?

The answer to that, in my opinion, is acceptance. And I think Ari realized that too. He's been trying so hard not to accept what was right in front of his eyes. He was trying so hard to deny how he truly felt. He had a lot of assumptions on what the secrets were. He got them right, but then the most important came towards the very end - the acceptance.

All this time I had been trying to figure out the secrets of the universe, the secrets of my own body, of my own heart. All of the answers had always been so close and yet I had always fought them without even knowing it. From the minute I'd met Dante, I had already fallen in love with him. I just didn't let myself know it, think it, feel it.

I think that's the most important message of all. To accept our situation, no matter how bad or good it is. Acceptance will make everything lighter, if not better. That is the secret that the author wants to share with us. To really live, you must first accept yourself, then learn to accept whatever reality life has to give you. Because in denying it, you will only hurt yourself and other people in the process. Life is not all good. It will never be all good. There will be thorns and shards of broken glass that you might step on along the way, but the most important thing is to embrace that. Rather than sulking, being depressed, and hateful, do something that will make things better despite your current situation.

What else could I say about it?

It was a very nice read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I would highly recommend this as a book club read, because it will give you some nice points to talk about. There were times that it got boring for me... Too slow. but those were very minor and minimal. It was an easy read. There is absolutely no need to open the dictionary for this one (lucky me. LOL.)

Oh and there was a tiny bit romance in it. I wouldn't call it full on romance though. For me, it was more of the developing friendship between two people than anything else. It was sweet and heartfelt. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Have you guys read this? If you have, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this.


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