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

Thursday, July 24, 2014 8:38 PM
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Narrator: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Published: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Length: 7 hours and 29 minutes
Source: Library
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“The problem with my life is that it was someone else's idea.”
― Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

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. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe starts off like many other books, introducing the lonely, misunderstood protagonist, different from other kids his age and in desperate need of a friend, only to find one only a few pages in. But from then on, it traverses another path entirely its own, unique and individual in every way. I went into this book, completely unsuspecting of the beautiful, emotional writing I would find within, and despite a couple of misgivings, I found it to be overall an awe-inspiring read.

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, time is a fickle, uncontrollable thing, constantly slipping through our fingers just as we think we have grasped it. This story sets a leisurely pace, giving the reader ample time to appreciate and admire the lovely writing. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe takes place over a span of about a year, give or take, but the summer is where the story seems to truly move forward, as Dante and Aristotle cross paths during this season. It is then that they discover an incredible and complicated friendship, something that cannot be easily replicated, something they have yet to find with anyone else. Summer for them holds magical wonders and infinite possibilities, as it offers an endless escape from reality, while at the same time it is painfully short, all too soon coming to a close.

Aristotle, the protagonist of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, is a difficult individual to understand, as he still doesn’t know himself. Sometimes he is cold and taciturn, while at other times he is overcome by violent rages and uncontrollable anger. For far too long, his family has remained silent, keeping all of their feelings and thoughts bottled up, and Aristotle has had enough. He wants to know more about his father and his memories of wartime; he wants to know why his brother went to prison and why everyone pretends he doesn’t exist; he wants to know why he’s never fit in with other boys his age and why he’s such a loner. He cannot handle all of the feelings pouring through him, and he is slowly discovering himself and why he is going through all these changes. Locked inside his head, the reader is easily swept up by his stormy thoughts and emotions, lost to his contemplation as he tries to make sense of his surroundings. He is a troubled individual, but he is also realistic, and as I gained a deeper understanding of him, I also felt an undeniable bond to him. As his emotions constantly shifted, I was taken along with them, feeling them to a smaller but still strong degree.

Then there’s his counterpart, Dante, his best and pretty much only friend. If Aristotle is a torrid storm, Dante is the calm after that storm. He brings a much-needed lightness to Aristotle’s life, as he is constantly laughing and making up silly games for the hell of it. The two of them make a fitting pair, as Dante talks while Aristotle listens. They are both plagued by insecurities and doubts, loneliness and a feeling of not belonging as Mexican Americans. Yet together their fears and worries are eased somewhat, and they discover a wonderful friendship, a friendship that makes this book truly worth reading.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe may heavily focus on friendship, but it does not fail to mention family as well. Aristotle and Dante’s families play a large part in this book, acting as a shoulder to lean on, always concerned for them and their well-being. It was lovely to witness how protective their parents are, and to find a YA book that doesn’t suffer from absent parent syndrome. Their families were a constant presence, and through learning more about his family, Aristotle learned how fortunate he is to have such loving parents. He also learned how to open up to others, and to release some of his pent-up feelings. Some of the most touching moments were shared between Aristotle and his mother, or between his father and him, or even between Aristotle and Dante’s parents, and each of these scenes had me fighting off tears.

Despite my deep appreciation for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, I found some of the dialogue repetitive and awkward. Maybe, I wouldn’t have noticed this if I had been reading a physical copy instead of listening to the audiobook, but it really bothered me when listening to the narrator. There were many instances where Dante or Aristotle would say something, and the other would echo back the same response. I think I understand the reasoning for this, as one of the characters might be questioning the sincerity of the other’s statement, or questioning its meaning. But I was still annoyed by it, and it was made all the more noticeable when listening. Also the dialogue, at times, seemed formal and stiff, not at all convincing. Maybe this was because Aristotle and his family often have difficulty communicating their innermost thoughts, but there were others who spoke similarly, and it just didn’t flow smoothly for me at these parts.

Other than a couple of issues, I was overall very pleased with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I would definitely consider reading other books by this author, especially Last Night I Sang to the Monster. I would recommend this book to anyone who would appreciate slow-moving, profound, and thought-provoking novels written in lyrical prose, and who also can handle a tear-jerker.


  1. Huh, I didn't notice this echoing pattern but, like you said, I read a physical copy instead of listening to it in audio. I'm glad you still enjoyed this one, Courtney, and I feel as if it's one of the most beautiful pieces of literature out there. I love the quiet books and this is exactly that. Gorgeous review.

  2. Yay!! I'm glad you enjoyed this book. I read this book last year, and I was thoroughly impressed with the story and the poetic writing style. I didn't notice repetition, maybe because of the physical copy. I do agree that this could be tad bit exasperating while listening. Aristotle and Dante complement each other in this novel. I loved it so much. Wonderful review, Courtney!!

  3. Oh man, every time I read a review for this one, I am always blown away by how incredible it sounds. Sure it may not be perfect, but I'm totally fine with that if the overall product is as beautiful as this one. Really fantastic review here, Courtney.


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