Published by: Simon and Schuster
Reviewed by: Judith
Score: all of the stars ever given anywhere, ever
If you’re here on I Love YA Fiction, you more than likely know that I…well, I love YA fiction. Really love it. I love the character development, the moment of self-awareness, the deepening maturity and the subtle change from child to adult. It’s a heady mix and beautiful to read. Only problem? I read so much of it over the last three years that it all got rather tired and monotonous; the dreaded B word cropped up quite a lot whenever I talked about books. You all know the B word, right? It’s the kiss of death for authors and reads alike: BORING. That’s right. All the YA books I read were just boring.
So when a friend suggested I give Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe a shot, I was skeptical and ready to be bored bored bored.
But ya know what? I was wrong wrong wrong! This book is outstanding! It’s all the best parts of YA with none of the BS. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll hook you just as quickly…
Plot: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Review: This book is all the best words: poignant, nuanced, and oh so beautiful. What it isn’t, is boring. The plot is deceptively simple. Two boys meet and there’s an instant connection which strengthens and grows into friendship over the course of a summer. Aristotle is sullen and uncommunicative; he has no friends and is quick to use his fists. Dante is clever and open; he loves his parents and has a quirky way of looking at the world. They shouldn’t have anything in common and yet they become fast friends. Their friendship withstands one of them moving away for a year and returning with a very open and changed view of his sexuality. This change will either make or break their friendship and you don’t know until the very end which it will be.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most compelling and beautiful YA books I’ve read to date. And I’ve read A LOT. The writing is fluid and while not descriptive per se, it just flows naturally in a way that will hook you from page one. The whole story is told from Aristotle’s terse point of view. Part introspection, part guarded self-awareness, you can see he’s a boy on his way to becoming a man. He’s interested in the world and has a desire to be something more. I love watching a character grow and mature and Ari gives us that in spades.
The best parts of the book are when Dante is on the page cause this kid just shines. Dante is the quirky, intelligent boy we all wished we could have met in high school. He doesn’t care what people think: he’s affectionate with his family, hates wearing shoes, and has a remarkable ability to just accept those around him. His character is utterly refreshing in a world of sullen, brooding YA heroes and you’ll fall in love with him instantly. While the book itself meanders through two years of their lives, the crux of it all is a revelation about Dante and how it colors his dealings with Ari. It clearly defines them as people after it is made known and acts as the catalyst for a lot of soul searching. It’s also the moment that you can watch Ari grow as a person and come to terms with what he believes and what he wants in the world. It’s poignant and sweet and unfailingly awesome.
This is quality YA that will gut you and have you ugly sobbing in parts, yes, but it will ultimately uplift you. You just have to give it time. In the end, I’m giving Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe a solid 10/10 aka all the stars ever given anywhere ever.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. Ari is a strange mix of ferocity and a tenderhearted need to protect those he cares about. He’s constantly dealing with the repercussions of a past that didn’t include him – his dad’s stint in Vietnam, his brother’s criminal activity – and he’s just so angry. Dante helps make him recognize that he is a person outside of that. That he isn’t defined by these things but enriched by them. His character is phenomenal and watching him mature? Amazing writing there.
How believable is the plot: 10. This is a story with no definable plot – it’s watching two people form a friendship and watching that grow and change over the course of the book. It’s an extremely unique read in that regard and I found it so real, I cried pretty much every single chapter. So, yes, very very real.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Benjamin Alire Saenz is a writer who just gets me. He writes with such a natural, flowing style; not too many words, not too much description, his story just flows and flows. His ability to make me cry is unparalleled. He will eviscerate you with very little effort and you love every minute.
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. The last few pages will have you screaming, “WAIT! THERE’S ONLY A FEW MORE PAGES?! NOOOOOOOOOOO!” and yet, that’s it. No amount of screaming will make it longer. If we had been given a bit more of a wrap up there at the end I would have been infinitely happier but as it stands, now I can hope and pray that one day he’ll write a sequel.
Final Score: 10/10. Quality YA, fantastic writing, and a revelation that will actually shock you. Get it, love it, and come tell me all about it.