Rated Reads

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Rated: High

It’s the summer of 1987 in El Paso, Texas, and 15-year-old Aristotle — Ari; he hates his given name — is a bit lost. He’s the caboose in a Mexican-American family; he was born after his father returned from a tour in Vietnam. He has older twin sisters and an older brother, but since his brother is in prison, no one talks about him. Ari’s got a whole lot of bottled-up angsty feelings and is quite directionless.

Then he meets Dante, who is everything Ari is not: vibrant, interesting, talkative. They become inseparable and slowly over the course of the year, their friendship blossoms into something more.

While I didn’t mind (too much) the historical setting of this one, I never quite understood why it needed to be set in the 1980s. Both Ari’s and Dante’s parents were incredibly accepting of Dante’s homosexuality, and the experimentation with drugs and alcohol could have happened just as well today as it did back then. There’s a side plot that involves violence against Dante for being gay, but again: not necessarily something that needed to be in the 1980s. In fact, even with the violence, it seemed … tame. We have come a long way in the last 30 years.

All that aside, I never really connected with this book. I think part of it was that I don’t do 15-year-old boy angst well at all. I just found it hard to relate to Ari, to all his angst and his non-communication. And I’m not sure that the spare prose helped the situation much. While I understood Ari and what he was going through, I found I couldn’t sympathize with him. And I do have to say that while I didn’t have a problem with the end, I didn’t think it was terribly convincing, either.

Rated: High for language, including multiple f-bombs; marijuana use, and drinking involving teens.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: