Author: Benjamin Saenz
Page Count: 359
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel that moved me in ways that this one did. A brilliant coming-of-age novel, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, tells a raw, honest, heartfelt story of boyhood, adolescence, manhood, and all of the painful spaces in-between.
The first aspect of this novel that stood out to me was the voice of the main character, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza, a Mexican-American boy, trying to find his place within his family, and the world around him. Ari struggles to form an understanding of manhood as he enters his teen years, angry, friendless, and lost. Nevertheless, Ari’s voice shines brightly on every page, evoking a poignant, nostalgic feeling, that leaves the reader grasping for the smallest remnant of our own memories of adolescence.
Ari meets Dante at the age of fifteen, and their friendship takes off at the very beginning of the novel. On the outside, the two boys are nothing alike. However, as the reader gets to know Ari and sees Dante through Ari’s eyes, we come to understand that the two boys have quite a lot in common. Ari’s solitary upbringing hardened him, while Dante’s made him a carefree, wisecracking teen, with a beautiful appreciation for the arts. The reader is able to clearly hear each boy’s voice coming through the pages as they grow and learn more about life.
Secondly, the content of the novel was extremely enlightening. Even in it’s darkest moments, the brilliance of the story radiated. Saenz used the idea of summertime as a formative period to delicately describe two teenage, Mexican-American boys, discovering and understanding their heritage and culture, sexuality, and friendship. The ideas of “Manhood” and “boyhood” are discussed within this novel in every section, and Ari’s understanding of both themes evolves as he grows older.
Finally, my favorite aspect of the novel was the discussion of sexuality. Saenz skillfully examines sexuality through Ari’s voice, and helps the reader see and feel all of the awkward, uncomfortable, and extremely touching experiences that the two boys go through.
Without giving too much away, I will say that this story is one that will stay with me for a long time. My heart was so full after reading it, so much so that I considered reading it again as soon as I had finished. I encourage all of you to read this novel.
Many thanks to Nazahet, at ReadDiverseBooks, who inspired me to read this book, and many others. Check out their blog! They review and discuss many other novels written by people of color, which is definitely something the world needs more of.