Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, written by Benjamn Alire Sáenz, was a super thoughtful and interesting YA novel. I must admit, no matter how old I get, I still enjoy a well written coming of age novel.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is about Ari and his friend Dante who are both Mexican teenagers living in Texas. They meet during the summer that they’re 15 and very quickly develop a strong bond. Told from the POV of Aristotle, who goes by Ari, the main dilemma (for a lack of better words) is that he wants to know all the secrets of the universe, he just wants life to begin, and there is a lot of inner-turmoil in his life. He is struggling with his non-existent relationship with his father and the fact that his parents act like his much-older brother doesn’t exist. Dante, by comparison is open and seems to be more at peace with the ways of the world.
One thing I thought was cool was just how popular and award-winnable this book is.
- Lambda Literary Awards Winner
- Pura Belpré Award
- Stonewall Book Award
- Michael I Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
I think that the awards are well-deserved, especially because it deals with topics that have often been underrepresented in literature in film, including minority representation and sexual representation.
Both Ari and Dante are Mexican, and one thing they struggle with is if they are even Mexican because, for example, Ari couldn’t speak Spanish. One of the “secrets of the universe” seemed to include dealing with that it means to be from a particular culture or ethnicity on an individual level and without any stereotypes.
Right away, there was really strong chemistry between Ari and Dante with a lot of potential for a romantic future. That said, Ari seems to be in total denial about it, to the point where he seems reluctant to even consciously admit how much he even likes Dante as a friend, even when his actions speak otherwise. Of course, Dante’s homosexuality ends up being a major plot feature and something that the characters have to confront together. I really liked that they dealt with it because it sort of let’s kids know that it’s ok, even when it’s hard to accept. This is especially true with today’s social surroundings, especially in the USA where it is often still a challenge to have your sexuality be accepted. This is doubly true because a lot of the time when I see a book or movie deal with sexuality or gender (that isn’t hetero), the characters are white. The sociologist in me would like to talk about intersectionality.
So basically intersectionality looks at how race, sexuality, gender, education, and socioeconomic status (etc. etc.) combined can impact someone’s experience’s. How various factors intersect make a difference and sociologists tend to look at the intersections instead of just looking at these things alone. For example, the gendered experiences of white women are different than the experiences of women who are black, Asian, etc. I might be doing a terrible job of explaining this for all I know, but it’s actually a good thing if that isn’t totally clear. For example, I’ve talked to or read posts from many people who are minorities about how important it is to have a role model in film or literature who represents them culturally or socially (and like, of course! That’s so obviously understandable). So basically, having characters who are minorities by being Mexican and gay is a very positive thing in my opinion because it gives teenagers a chance to see themselves in those characters who are potential role models.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Given that I am in my mid-20’s now, you’d think I’d have outgrown the coming-of-age YA novels years ago, but I really haven’t. You can actually find some interesting articles through Google about why adults still like books like this and the Hunger Games books or the Divergent series (so Google it).
This book is supposed to be the next book to be read by the Harry Potter Alliance book club, so called The Friends of the Apparating Library Book Club, and I am really excited to get to talk about the book even more with them.
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