Sunday, 24 January 2016

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

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.

Date of Publication: 21st February 2012

This book. This book. This book... I don't even know how to express how lovely and special this book is - and what it means to me. It's like that feeling when you hear a song playing and it just clicks with the beat of your heartstrings and you feel like every one of your thoughts is dancing slowly and happily with this beautiful song. I feel like this book changed me - made me feel things in a different way, with more emotion and heart, and made me appreciate everything about the ones and the world around me more because this book is like a breathe of fresh air that I never want to stop inhaling. I sound so lost trying to express how much I adore this book - and perhaps overly dramatic - but all I'm trying to say is I love this book for everything that it is.

From the blurb it may not seem especially special, and I wasn't sure I'd love it so much - but the sparkling reviews on goodreads and the fact that I enjoy books that take something that seems simple and makes it extraordinary and lovely. You already get a hint that it's something new from the main characters names: Aristotle and Dante - both unusual names inspired by philosophers and poets.

When I picked up this book I did not intend to read it right there and then because I thought I was tired and in a lazy mood but once I started reading this book I couldn't stop - I read it all in one go, which I haven't done in a while, because there was something about Ari's voice that captured me there and then. Sáenz crafted a beautiful mixture of self-deprecating, bitter, pessimistic, secretly hopeful, funny, sarcastic and subtly loving in one voice that I enjoyed reading. I remember right from the get-go smiling and laughing because of the way Ari saw the world. This book is definitely not all smiles and laughs and sunshine and unicorns because, as the blurb says, Ari is someone who is trying to deal with a lot of anger and doesn't really know how to make or keep a friend because of his tendency to push people away. But, on the topic of sunshine, then Dante comes into the story. Oh Dante, I wish I could know you. There's always this unusually sweet but genuine tone underlying anything he says - even if it's not that innocent or predictable - and you cannot put him in a box or even dare try to label him because he is so much more than kind. He's different and so is Ari - their uniqueness because of their many layers - and this is what creates the unexpected friendship between them. This book is not just milk and honey - it has its darker moments, as life does, and that made it feel all the more real.

This book spans over a few years, and I enjoyed this because you get to see both Ari and Dante in different phases of their life and see how their perspectives and relationships change as they grow older (it's not that many years but from being around 15 to 17 or 18 I believe:)). This made so many of their thoughts and experiences relatable - but even experiences far away from mine felt relatable because of the way I felt invested in both of them. I just felt so emotionally invested that I didn't know what to do and I didn't want the book to end.

Family and friendship are explored with such a touching and distinctive insight by the author. He shows two families that would have such different scrapbooks of experiences yet overlap in the most perfect ways. The friendship between Ari and Dante is built up in such a believable and lovely and fun manner because we see two completely different people connect and get to experience them connect - so many writers skip over the forming of bonds but Sáenz indulges us in it from the start. Sometimes I found myself grinning over their jokes or worrying over their setbacks because I CARED SO MUCH.

This book is packed with so many deep insights that I feel I can apply to my outlook - but it never feels too direct or forceful - instead he weaves in these messages with a understated and gentle touch. I may have kinda cried reading this book - not because of happy or sad moments, even though it has plenty of both - but because of the overwhelming feeling of loving it too much and loving the characters too much and loving the experience of reading it too much. At one point I'd be sure I'd know where the story was going but at the next I'd start to wander - and I liked not being sure of where the book is going but getting to experience it as Ari and Dante would - in the beautiful moment. It's not an overly dramatic or action-packed book but the author's way of showing us the lives of two Mexican-American teenagers in such vivid detail and with such unwavering brilliance and subtlety makes it more impactful than you could ever guess. I don't even know if I want to post this because I don't think it does the book justice but I will because I can't not rave about this book:)

There's meaning in this story like there are stars in a dark night sky. 5 million stars!
Thanks for reading!

Also, for once you've finished the book or those who have read it, here's a song that somehow is a match made in heaven for this story: 
Moondust by Jaymes Young


  1. Aww wonderful review Maya! :D Your love and enthusiasm for this book shines through so purely :') I must read this!! x

    1. Aw thanks Riya!<3 I'll lend it to you - it's such a gorgeous and meaningful novel - I think you'll love it:D

  2. I'm so glad that you liked this one! I want to check it out so bad.

    1. Thanks for reading my review! You should:D - it's such a wonderful book that reminds me why I love to read:')