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

A novel that makes me laugh and cry will stay with me after its final words. That is exactly what Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alire Sáenz achieved. It left me sobbing at three o’clock in the morning. The feeling was reminiscent of saying goodbye to a loved family member or an old friend, unaware of when you might see them again. This piece of literature moved me. It is a novel that speaks to the heart of humanity.

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The young adult story follows a young teenager by the name of Aristotle who lives with difficult family circumstances. His brother is in prison and his family don’t like to discuss it, leaving Aristotle often feeling introverted and isolated. However, after meeting Dante who has a rare way of viewing the world, Aristotle notices change in himself. Despite the fact that the two have absolutely nothing in common, everything begins to turn around for Aristotle. These two characters steer the novel into areas that will warm your heart, as a story of self-discovery, friendship and the beginnings of a homosexual relationship develops.

Alire Sáenz portrays this story in a way that is simply extraordinary. He gives an example of what ‘show don’t tell’ writing looks like. The picture he constructs in your mind puts you front seat of his show. Through his exquisite writing style you become attached to his characters and begin to feel yourself become totally immersed within this story. You feel for the characters as if you have known them your entire life. The connection and bond Alire Sáenz creates is one that will be inexplicable long after you complete this novel.

Awards have been numerous, including the Stonewall Book Award. This book reminds simply that love deserves to be open and free without the underlying concept of shame attached. This concept has led to much criticism, but also success.

This book ticked almost all of the boxes, however I did find some problems. I think that the hype surrounding this novel diminished its speciality. I found myself at times becoming slightly disengaged with the plot finding some components that could have best of been excluded from the story.

I highly recommend this book overall. I think it is a contributing factor towards further acceptance towards the LGBT community among the young adult genre. This novel provides the perfect opportunity to understand inner demons of self-exploration that a young angst teen undergoes, not only being quite introverted but on the path of discovering gay preference.

With themes that are simple for any reader to connect with, Alire Sáenz hits the nail on the head. His writing style has a flow to it that doesn’t require too much concentration. Overall, my favourite part of this novel is the theme of acceptance in oneself. It emphasises the importance of that through the search for identity that comes with adolesces. He ensures us that it’s okay to be afraid. He ensures us that it’s okay to be unsure of ourselves.


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