I don’t know where to start with Benjamin Alire Sáenz beautiful Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It was beautiful. Honestly, I’ll probably be using the word “beautiful” excessively to describe this story because it truly encapsulates the beauty of life and self-discovery. Sáenz takes on a candid, sad and joyous journey with two different boys trying to understand themselves and life.
The story is told through Aristotle, a Mexican teenager living in El Paso, TX in the late 1980s. Ari has always been a loner, never wanting to hang out with kids his age. He doesn’t understand them, or if he does, he clearly wouldn’t want to be friends with them. He has a caring mom, who he absolutely adores and a father who frustrates him with how emotionally absent he can be. One summer day, while out at the pool, he meets Dante, a boy his age, who is friendly and interesting. Dante is more self-assured and talkative than Ari, but quickly the two develop a close friendship.
“The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea,” is what Ari tells us. It’s a statement that most young people can attest to in one way or another. As we experience Ari’s story, the moments with his parents, the laughs he shares with Dante, the sadness and joy, we’re given a truly relatable coming of age story.
Being Mexican myself, I enjoyed the quips and comments on Mexican culture, especially the thoughts they had on “being a real Mexican” and basically trying to understand how they fit into this culture as American raised teenagers. It’s a topic that I still question to myself from time to time. I know many others, even those who aren’t Mexican, who feel connected to their heritage but in a less immediate and typical way.
In addition to that, the story tackles other important topics having to do with trust, family, love and sexuality. It touches base with each one sensitively and realistically. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s prose is so soothing in places, energized in others, sweeping during touching moments. Narrator Lin-Manuel Miranda embodies those words and characters with the right accents and emotions. In many ways, the story felt even more personal and gentle by listening to Miranda speak. I almost felt I was right alongside Ari, being a friend that he didn’t know he had.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of those books that leave your heart feeling so wonderfully full. It makes you believe in the goodness and love of the universe and its people. It gives hope, which many books aspire to do but not always succeed in doing. It’s a beautiful story with beautiful characters set in our scary yet beautiful world. After the craziness and tragedies of last week, Aristotle and Dante was a breathtaking reminder of the power of love.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is now available wherever audiobooks (CD and Digital) are sold. Support The Young Folks and purchase it at our TYF Store, powered by Amazon.
Publisher: AUDIOWORKS – Simon and Schuster (April 9, 2013)
Length: Approx. 7.5 hours
Source: Unabridged Audio CD (Provided by publisher)
Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age, Family, Friendship, Love
Completed: April 2013