15 October 2014

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I read this book after seeing it mentioned in an article by Adam Silvera, who said he read it twice in six months. I can see why. I read the whole thing in two days, and I’ve reread my favorite parts several times in the days since.

Aristotle & Dante follows Ari (Aristotle) Mendoza, a 16-year-old Mexican-American living in El Paso, Texas, as he forms a friendship - his first real friendship - with Dante Quintana.

Ari is a quiet boy, suffocating in his own silence, and his family’s. His older brother is in jail, and his mother and father never talk about him, acting like he doesn’t exist. Ari doesn’t know why; all he has are vague memories (or perhaps dreams) of his brother, and how much he loved him.

Dante is the opposite of quiet. He wears his heart on his sleeve, he laughs, he cries, he has no censor. He says what he thinks. And something in him cracks Ari’s shell. Slowly but surely, Ari starts talking. To Dante, to his family, to himself.

Aristotle & Dante captures so beautifully what it’s like growing up. It includes entries Ari makes in his journal, as well as letters exchanged between Ari and Dante when Dante is in Chicago. If anything, those letters and entries are even more honest: Dante opens up to Ari about things he’s never said aloud, and Ari opens up to himself on paper, even if he doesn’t understand himself.

It’s inevitable that something has to break through the silence. The growing relationship between Ari and Dante wasn’t a surprise to me as a reader, and it wasn’t a surprise to Dante, or to their families. But it was a surprise to Ari. And Ari’s long journey toward self-acceptance is at the heart of the story. It wasn’t bold, it wasn’t dangerous - well, I guess it was a little dangerous - but its true steps were taken in the quiet spaces, in the silence, as Ari learned to listen to himself.

I read the final pages over and over and over again. The ending was so beautiful, it left me feeling whole and healed in a way I didn’t even know I needed to be.

Aristotle & Dante was a beautiful, breathtaking novel, and it’s earned a place on my shelf next to many of my other favorites. I got it from the library (as is pretty much usual) and then ordered a copy of my own when I realized I couldn’t live without it.