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

Genre : Young Adult, LGBT, Contemporary, Coming of Age
Page : 359 pages
Published : 21st February 2012

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.

“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get–and never would get.”

This book existed before I ferociously eating books for my daily necessity. Therefore, my first reaction when I came across the book was “Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe? Okay. What do we got here?”

and that’s it.

Bought and read within a few days without knowing much what exactly this book is about. Except for the short summary provided that promised nothing but a meaningful story of two boys.

I was drawn into the poetic title and even without joining in (I called it) the-2012-hype, I have the hunch that this book is mega-hit during those days and my hunch is proven with those awards label sticks to the front cover. I have never known any books that win enormous award as much as this book.

I half expected this book to be a good read but I never expect it to be so easy to read.

Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe is a coming of age story of two boys— Ari and Dante (just like the title suggest) in quest of finding themselves in chaotic and unfathomable world.

T H E   C H A R A C T E R S

Ari— a fifteen year old boy who apparently view the world from a different aspect. Which I found VERY RELATABLE on some cases. Ari is a boy with not much friend, not because he couldn’t have any but because he find peace in solitude. And he prefers to have it that way — even when his parents are worried sick for his seclusion and his friends think of him as a sad lonely boy.

I do not think of him as lonely boy though. Sad— yes. sometimes. but for me, Ari possessed a more grown up thoughts than the rest of fifteen years old should have.

Throughout the book, Ari will bring us readers to roam around his boyish thoughts that- unsurprisingly, sometimes could claim mature remarks.

Dante—another fifteen year old boy that adore swimming and just like Ari– view the world on different perspective, but in a more understanding Dante-way.  Which, again– unsurprisingly, manage to show Ari the side of the world that Ari himself couldn’t quite see.


For me, Ari is the thoughtful and gloomy side of me that always wonder and marvelled at how and why the world turns out this way. Millions of thoughts with no apparent worthy explanation. You know, the kind of question we never really asked out loud because of the question itself.

Reading the book, Ari seems like a boy with lots of difficult thoughts that he can’t help but to think.

“This is my problem. I want other people to tell me how they feel. But I’m not so sure I want to return the favor.”

“Maybe tears were something you caught. Like the flu.”

“You can’t make anyone be an adult. Especially an adult.”

“And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”

Gosh. There are endless relatable Ari-thoughts  that I can’t help but to relate them myself.

Meanwhile, Dante is the kinder side of me that appreciate art and appears to be more emotional than people in general. Dante ought to have unanswered thought of himself (just like Ari) but somehow lives “normal” enough like the rest of the population. You know, where there’s more to tell to one profile. Not the living-without-any-realistic-problem teenage boy Dante show to the world.

Unlike Ari who show his confusion straight to his emotion (that close relatives might know what’s wrong with him) , Dante is a little bit more personal and reserved, but not ashamed to shed tears when he feels sad. Throughout the book, this soft-heart Dante is one of the many things in the book I love. He is just so sweet and so Dante.

T H E   P L O T

Truth to be told, I do not feel any definite plot when reading. Unlike other books where there seems to have objectives and purpose to what the main characters are desperately looking and fighting for, the words and plot of this book just flow effortlessly without any specified destination. Just like how life should work.

They just flow— predictable but we still desperately in need of reading and yet unpredictable of what events would occur next as to how the characters will handle the sudden situation.

Like I stated above, this book is so easy to read. There never once confusion I felt during my reads for this book, no hard glossaries, no complicated details that need much attention and all I wanna do is just read, read and read. The plot seems so simple and easy and childish — but it also offers depth understanding of all those simple questions and ordinary words.

Honestly, never once I thought this book is under the LGBT tag. I just grab the book without finding another sources of what this book mainly about and read. And surprisingly, it does not feel like reading LGBT book at all. This book is just merely the coming of age story of two teenage boys that I couldn’t get enough of.

T H E   C H E M I S T R Y

The chemistry between Ari and Dante is to die for.

Not just the chemistry between the two boys that I find it lovely, but also their upbringing to readers. I could almost feel that Ari and Dante is real and they somehow exist. I am even feel protective for the boys after a week of reading this book as I am now writing this review.

This chemistry section is not to specify their undying love to one another. Trust me, you won’t find any of the sort in the book. Except for the tiny spark romance in the end of the book. This chemistry here is for their pure friendship. How they appreciate and respect one another presence.

Just like any other friendship- there might be stones in the miles, and what I love in their friendship is their honest value towards many things in the world, including themselves. Especially about what they thought of one another and they could always somehow transfer their thoughts without damaging their friendship line. Which is goals.

Aside from their friendship, Ari and Dante also have such chemistry to their parents. As I read, I could sense the growth within the family, not just their relationship to their parents, but all of their growth- as a family.

F U R T H E R   T H O U G H T S

Apart from all the great things I stated above— which is something really you can expect when you decide to read this book, I do not feel much connection as the whole context supposed to give me. I am very much in love with the book– especially with Ari relatable thoughts and Dante soft presence, however I do not find the book to warmth my heart fully as it supposed to do- as I supposed to feel after reading this piece.

I feel disappointed with myself for not being able to feel the warmth and the greatness this book offer- because deep inside, I know that this book is wonderful. Borrowing Ari and Dante terms- The Secret of the Universe, this book is the universe itself. Provides a lot of statements that I can’t help but to wonder myself.

I even cried reading some specific parts of the book. I repeat– cried. Not just shedding some hot tears but cry. and I very much appreciate the book. It just that I am angry with myself for being in the minority regarding the feelings achievement this book offers. I feel content and grateful for the book but after finished reading the book, it does not provide a the grand feeling I supposed to feel.

Despite all that ramblings above, I would love to recommend this book. I could say this book might fit those in teens trying to figure out this world but this book also fit adults. This book provides story and chemistry I do not want to missed. Even the introductory passage has hooked me right from the start.

”Why do we smile? Why do we laugh? Why do we feel alone? Why are we sad and confused? Why do we read poetry? Why do we cry when we see a painting? Why is there a riot in the heart when we love? Why do we feel shame? What is that thing in the pit of your stomach called desire?”

And when I start reading the first chapter, I barely stop. All I want to do is to read without caring much for how the book will end.

“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.”

Author : Celine

14 thoughts on “Book Review : Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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