Benjamin Alire Sáenz writes a gorgeous story of friendship and love in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
“The problem with my life is that it was someone else’s idea.” As a teen, who among us didn’t think this? Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza is a Mexican American boy in 1987 Texas, a bit of a loner, who doesn’t really understand why he is uncomfortable in his own skin. He thinks it might be his homelife – his remote father is a Viet Nam vet who keeps to himself, his older brother is in prison, and the family never speaks of him – but it is more than that.
Early in the summer of his 16th year, he meets Dante Quintana, another boy with the same discomfort. Dante is an only child of loving parents, but he fears disappointing them. The boys spend the summer together, swimming, reading, staring at the stars and wondering about life. For the first time for each of them, they have a best friend, someone who feels things the same way.
After their summer of friendship, Dante moves to Chicago for the school year. The time apart brings his feelings to the forefront; he realizes quite quickly that while partying and kissing girls is fun, he would really rather be kissing boys. Specifically Ari.
Dante is brave. He writes Ari often, telling him of his discovery, hoping he doesn’t freak him out. And while not totally scared off, Ari has a harder time getting his head around the idea; he is angry at Dante for loving him. It was easier when they were just friends. Dante is not immune to the confusion either – he doesn’t want to tell his parents. No matter how much they love him, he has trouble accepting that they will be ok with him being gay.
When it all finally culminates, there is heartbreak, and joy.
If I have a criticism of this book (and oh geez, is it totally petty, sorry), it is that Sáenz needs another word or emotion. Everyone laughs. All the time. It is his go-to.
That said, it is a wonderful story of discovering and accepting who you are, and who you love. The one major thing I do like about this book is the story illustrates how feelings of young love are universal, whether you love girls or boys. That first stomach churning uncertainty is the same. The first kiss still takes you by surprise.
This book is appropriate for all ages.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is published by Simon and Schuster.