Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
I started the year off just right – purchasing plenty of books. But I noticed I hadn’t picked up one that I connected with right away. Then a package came for me and inside held what I know is my favorite book currently. I know the old story – don’t judge a book by its cover. I’m calling bullshit because the cover to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is extremely beautiful. When I started reading it, it was beautiful. The story, the characters, the way it’s written, Benjamin Alire Sáenz crafted a work of art.
“I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”
You have two characters, one named after a Greek philosopher, and the other, a poet whose literary work is known around the world. Aristotle Mendoza is the narrator for the most part, relaying his life as he undergoes a transition. No longer a boy, not yet a man; a complete loner by nature until he meets Dante at a swimming pool. Dante Quintana teaches Ari friendship, which confuses the latter because he’s never had a friend. The constant reminders of Ari’s lack of companionship irked me – more so because I understood the loneliness. To have someone waltz into your life, and teach you compassion for someone else, it’s a wonderful feeling.
I understood the book more than I wanted to, which caused me to incessantly scream profanities while reading. The crisis of not knowing who you are, trying to understand your heritage, it felt surreal. When you mix adolescence and self-discovery, it makes for a nice coming of age tale. Dante being uncomfortable in his Mexican-American skin, Aristotle unsure of whom he is, the uncertainty of what lies ahead, and the secrets families keep. I felt pain because I was in that situation. I’m still in that place where I’m trying to carve out an identity for myself.
Secrets were all too common while reading on. Aristotle’s parents refuse to acknowledge the existence of their oldest son, whom is in prison though it’s not brought up until the very end of how the mysterious figure in Ari’s life landed himself there. Any mention of it is shushed. With Dante, he can’t figure out why his new friend retains a quiet demeanor, but that doesn’t stop him from getting Ari to talk. I think I laughed loudest during the short dialogues between the two boys – mainly because I see those words coming out of my mouth with the guy I like.
I loved reading Aristotle and Dante, it was an instant connection. Its message conveyed that maybe friendship and love can help discover the secrets of the universe, and that sometimes you figure out who you might be, and that it doesn’t make sense all of the time.