BOOK IN REVIEW: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe3:06 PM
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 21st 2012
Hardcover: 359 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
It's funny how after I finished reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home (will review this next time) I told myself "I don't think I'll ever find a book that will measure up to this perfection", and then a month later stumble upon this impeccable, engrossing, coming-of-age tale of two friends as they go through self-discovery and their exploration of identity and sexuality. Guess I proved myself wrong. I don't even know what to say anymore, except that this story is simply divine, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished it two days ago.
I have cried over books for as long as I can remember, but never have I cried for more than half the time reading one. Let me just say that with other books, I had to stop reading, let out my feelings, then read again. But with Ari & Dante, I couldn't put the book down. I was probably an amusing sight (if you could've only seen me) - crying while reading from my iPad. I wonder what it would've been like if I was reading from an actual hardcopy book - it probably would have been drenched with my tears.
The story is narrated by Ari, and it's set in El Paco, TX during the 1980's. Ari is a loner who prefers to wallow in his loneliness alone, by shutting people out of his life and directing his anger: at his father, who has become a changed man after coming home from the war in Vietnam, at his family for keeping secrets about his older brother from him. Ari is searching for answers, answers which he didn't think he'd find from someone like Dante, who frankly, is his complete opposite. Dante is gentle, happy, and playful. He's an artist, a philosopher. He's the kind of boy who cries over a dead bird, something that Ari never really understood. But as they spend time together over the summer, it turns out they're not so different after all.
Both boys are on the brink of adulthood, questioning how to define themselves and who they want to be. It's the age of experimentation, of endless questioning about life, love and self. Dante knew himself all along, but it took Ari the whole book to realize and accept himself for who he was. Ari's narrative perfectly depicts him as a character. It makes it very clear how Ari is unable to talk about what he feels about certain things, because he's not entirely sure about them either. The only defense mechanism for him is to keep on repressing his feelings, until they dissolve and he no longer has to deal with them. But we as the readers have to rely on his actions (which do speak louder than his words) to understand what Ari is actually going through.
The best thing about this book is that it's not just a story of friendship and love between two young men, but it is a story that tackles issues on family, social stereotypes and restrictions, expectations on how a man should be, discrimination, bigotry and violence. There's nothing I can say anymore except that this book simply blew me away, with its fantastic writing and story telling. It's perfect, and I don't regret for a second that I didn't sleep because I was finishing it.
The book left me a blubbering mess, not entirely sure with what I was supposed to do with my life anymore. It rendered me speechless, and I never thought I could identify with an LGBT book (being straight myself) but amazingly I did.
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.”