“I got thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right of the bat. Some people you just didn’t get – and never would get.”
– Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the story of the friendship of Dante Quintana and Aristotle Mendoza. Two Mexican-American teenage boys living in the late 80s, who always preferred being on their own rather than socialising with their peers. That all changes when they happen to meet by the community pool one hot afternoon and Dante decides to teach Ari how to swim. From that moment on the two boys, who are so different, become inseparable.
Aristotle is constantly in awe at how passionate his friend can get about everything, he even cries about things like dead birds on the street, which Ari cannot really understand. In his family they don’t talk about their feelings. They definitely do not talk about his brother who went to jail when Ari was four years old and no one had ever really told him what exactly had happened. His father had been at war in Vietnam, another topic the family never talked about. Dante’s family is the complete opposite of his own, but nevertheless a close friendship evolves between them due to the boys’ bond.
When Dante’s family has to move to Chicago for a year, due to his father’s university career the boys are devastated, not that Aristotle would ever really let that see anyone, especially not Dante. During their year apart, Dante writes Ari many letters, but he only answers sporadically, to caught up in his own life. He starts hanging out with the people in his school a lot more and getting noticed by girls, having his first dating experiences.
After the Quintana family returns to New Mexico the boys start right where they left off – being best friends. When Dante tells Ari that he is more interested in boys than girls, it is no problem for Aristotle, although he himself is quite sure he fancies girls. However, when Dante starts going out with another boy, Ari does not know how to feel about himself, his friend and their friendship anymore.
Okay, first of all I have to say that it is very hard to write a review on this book that captures the feeling it conveys while you read it. Because while the plot is very straightforward Sáenz puts so much finesse and heart into his writing that it is an exciting read nevertheless. It is a beautiful story about friendship, love and finding out who you are and who you want to be. And it’s done in a way that is extremely touching and feels very authentic . All I can say is that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has instantly become one of my new favourite books that will want to be reread many many times.