Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason. Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.
Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely. Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”
The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents. Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship, love, the Latino lifestyle, and teenage angst as he describes places and events that will keep the reader engaged.
As the novel opens, we hear Ari speaking to himself:
“The problem of my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” Everything that follows , everything that happens to him and what he does seems to be “someone else’s idea” until he meets Dante, and everything changes. The two boys seek out and at the end discover, together, The Secrets of the Universe. I give this book a rating of ten out of ten, and recommend it to all ages who appreciate beautiful writing and a darned good story.