Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe1. Bibliography

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. 2012. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. ISBN 9781442408920.

2. Plot Summary

During the summer of 1987, 15-year-old Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza meets a boy unlike any other, named Dante Quintana. As they spend time together over the summer and their friendship grows, a devastating accident forces them to question whether they might feel more than friendship toward each other. But can Ari get past his anger and shame to see the love that’s right in front of him?

3. Critical Analysis (Spoilers)

This coming of age story tackles big questions of adolescence: Who am I? How do I fit into my family and my culture? Will people accept me for who I really am? How do I relate to the people around me? Told from Ari’s first-person viewpoint, readers see into his head as he struggles with these problems and learns how to deal with the emotions that go along with them.

In addition to these global problems, this book also tackles a much more specific issue: Coming to terms with your sexual identity. Throughout the story Ari discovers that Dante would rather kiss boys than girls. As the story progresses, Dante must face the challenges of coming out to his family and admitting he is in love with his best friend. Unlike many members of the LGBTQ community, Dante has a supportive family who accept him for who he is, which makes coming out much easier for Dante. Ari, on the other hand, struggles with coming out not because of lack of familial support, but because of his own preconceived ideas; he must fight his own personal war before he can accept his love for Dante.

Coming out is hard, no matter how strong of an individual one is. But sometimes the hardest coming out is to yourself. If you didn’t grow up in a gay-friendly environment, you may have internalized the guilt and shame some parts of society wish to place upon members of the LGBTQ community, which can make you loathe to admit even to yourself that you might be gay. Sometimes the biggest act of bravery is not coming out to your friends and family or facing homophobic bullies, as Dante had to, but coming out to yourself, as Ari had to.

Sáenz’s writing style accurately captures the way people tend to think and speak. His authentic dialog helps move the story forward. Sometimes the short sentences come off as choppy, however, instead of authentic.

Although both main characters are male, there remains a good balance of male and female supporting characters. Both Ari and Dante’s parents play a large role in the story, especially Ari’s mother. Ari’s close relationship with his mother serves as an anchor during the tumultuous times of the story.

While the story does have an interesting plot, Ari’s internal growth and realization are a much more integral part of the story than the events themselves. The story’s plot serves as a canvas on which Ari’s growth can be painted.

4. Review Excerpts

2012 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

2013 ALA Notable Books for Children

2013 Pura Belpre Award

2013 Stonewall Book Award

2013 Michael L. Printz Award (nominee)

2014 Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards (nominee)

2016 – Nutmeg Children’s Book Award (nominee)

From Library Journal: “A thought-provoking read for teens struggling to develop individuality.”

From School Library Journal: “While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.”

From Horn Book Magazine: “Senzs compelling story deals not only with friendship and romance but with personal growth and self-discovery, and is by turns humorous, heartbreaking, and uplifting.”

Form Publishers Weekly: “It’s a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love-whether romantic or familial-should be open, free, and without shame.”

5. Connections

-Recommend to readers who may be struggling to accept their sexual identity

-Art and poetry play a large role in Ari and Dante’s friendship. After reading, have students write a poem or create a piece of art for a friend.

-Display along with books about astronomy or stargazing.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)


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