Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Xolo Score 3/5
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a heartfelt coming-of-age story set in El Paso, Texas. One summer in 1987, Aristotle "Ari" Mendoza fatefully befriends Dante Quintana at the local pool. However, the two teenagers live very different lives and have clashing personalities but every day, their friendship flourishes. Being a teen is brutal, and Ari and Dante's story is one of pain, vulnerability, struggle, and love. Aristotle and Dante and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautiful book that pulls at your heart and makes you want to hug your inner child.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
At its heart, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a slow-burn queer romantic comedy. And true to the main characters' names, the story explores deep philosophical themes of identity, masculinity, and love through the angst-filled fumblings of Mexican-American teenagers. And although they are not the main characters, we also get a lot from the parent's perspective and their handling of their sons' growth. Sáenz is also intentional about setting the scene of Ari and Dante's universe to provide the context of their differing personalities and upbringings without resorting to harmful Mexican-American stereotypes.
Through the male-identifying characters, Sáenz challenges traditional ideas of masculinity, especially those prevalent in the Mexican-American/Latine culture. For example, Dante is very comfortable expressing their emotions and cries very often in front of Ari. And Aristotle is constantly wondering what it means to be a man and reflects on the man he wants to become. And it was particularly heartwarming to see the Mendoza family open up the internal wars they each fight. It's not uncommon for families to fight these wars in silence and isolation. But the Mendozas were able to let each other in and accept unconditional love and support.
And although Sáenz challenges traditional masculinity throughout the story, it was disappointing to see the use of anti-trans violence to move Aristotle's plot forward. And the decision to reveal this crucial information to Dante while he recovers from a violent hate crime was in poor taste.
Overall, this book does a great job of depicting queer love within the Mexican-American cultural context. It's one of the more impactful YA novels we've encountered. We hope it helps today's teenagers discover the secrets of their universe.
Keep an eye out for the sequel Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World.
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