Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“My mother and father held hands. I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”

                               – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

So I have a little confession to make… I don’t like poetry. There is something about it that I just don’t ‘get’. As an English student there are just some things that you don’t say out aloud and disliking poetry is one of them. However, after reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I finally feel like I understand why people love poetry; the language in this book is exquisite.  There were times it felt like the words were dancing on the page and I was being swept away with them.

T.S Eliot once said that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’ and I think this sums up the book perfectly. Aristotle, affectionately known as Ari, is a very angry young man. The book begins with the line “the problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea’. Ari struggles with certain factors in his life, particularly his father’s silence and the absence of his brother. The driving factor of the novel is Ari learning to deal with and let go of his anger; it is clear to the reader that he represses his emotions and does not express himself, due to a lack of understanding of his own thoughts. His actions speak louder than his words ever could.

Dante and Ari meet one summer and their friendship grows over swimming lessons and made-up games. Dante appears to be the complete opposite to Ari; he is quick to laugh and cry and expresses himself through art and philosophy. Despite this, both boys are on the same journey, seeking the answers to their identity, their sexuality and their place in the world.

The author has taken great care in telling a story that is smart, intelligent, tender and honest.  He has captured the limbo between childhood and adulthood perfectly in letting the reader watch these two boys grow and mature surrounded by their families and a world that is prejudiced and harsh. There are lessons of love and friendship and acceptance and the outcome will tug at your heartstrings for days after you finish reading. It is such a beautiful read.

This book is nothing short of extraordinary and it is easily my favourite book of 2014 so far.


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