I have read a few books lately that I’ve really fallen for, but Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe tops my list of recent reads. This is a quiet, beautifully written story about friendship that was so absorbing that I sat down and read it cover to cover.
Fifteen-year-old Aristotle is a loner. Although is family is loving and supportive, his parents and his sister have their own demons to struggle with, including the incarceration of Ari’s older brother, the after-effects of the Vietnam war. As summer approaches, Ari kicks around aimlessly. Miserably, he admits that “it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.” When he meets Dante at the pool, he is struck by the Dante’s oddness, but he immediately feels an affinity with the other boy, who is in some ways his opposite: open, optimistic, and friendly. Both teens are Mexican-American, and are dealing with not only their identities as people, but how they fit within their heritage, within their families, and in their social circles (or lack thereof).
The two boys become friends almost instantly, and Ari discovers that being close with someone isn’t boring at all: he has conversations with Dante about things that he’s never been able to discuss with anyone, and he finds that friendship doesn’t need to be exciting all the time to make him feel happier. Just as Aristotle is opening up to the world, an accident happens that threatens the bond between the two boys. Despite the relaxed pacing of this book–mirroring the real feeling of a lazy summer–a lot happens to the best friends.
Aristotle and Dante have a lot of obstacles to overcome in their own lives and they certainly haven’t neatly solved all of their problems in the end, but this book is ultimately heartwarming and optimistic. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s simple, direct writing style feels like the genuine voice of his hero, Ari. For me, the tone of this book was reminiscent of novels like Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, among many other personal favourites. It is also been billed as a read-alike for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Although there is a bit of romance, it is not the focal point of the story: instead, it was the unbreakable friendship of Aristotle and Dante that had me in happy tears by the end.