Novel Talk: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”

A story of a young boy growing up with his best friend


Photo courtesy M. Allen

The novel, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” is the heart-wrenching story of two best friends.

Marlee Allen

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming-of-age young adult novel written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Since its publication on Feb. 21, 2012, it has won many awards, including the 2013 Stonewall Book Award, the 2013 Pura Belpre Author Award and a Printz Award. The novel deals with sexual orientation, the finding of one’s identity, family secrets, friendships and love.

The book follows Mexican American Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza as he ages and questions himself. The setting is in El Paso, Texas, in 1987. It starts in the summer when 15-year-old Ari meets a Mexican American, though he doesn’t believe him to be a “true” Mexican, Dante Quintana.  His whole life changes. Dante is an outgoing, poetry-loving artist who has an ongoing hatred for shoes. Aristotle is a quiet, lonely fighter (only sometimes) who does not have a high opinion of himself. This unlikely pair of friends have traumatic moments that seem to push them apart and moments that will have readers grinning ear to ear. Their relationship becomes beautiful throughout the years as they realize exactly what they want.

This book makes readers go through all types of emotions while reading. Seeing Ari’s thoughts and reading through his perspective introduces the reader to a different mindset than their own. He faces many obstacles, both physically and mentally, and has to overcome them. His thoughts capture his brokenness, and it is incredible to see him accept himself and allow himself to finally be. This heartfelt book will leave readers shocked, bitter, excited, and more importantly, will leave a smile on their face.

The book ends happily, but unfinished. There are so many questions left unanswered in this novel that all readers can do is hope the sequel, Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World, contains them. This soul-warming book will have a permanent place in my heart and will forever be one of my favorite books.