Monday, March 28, 2016

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

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Book One
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 21 February 2012
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

"This book took my breath away."
―James Howe, author of The Misfits

Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side
. (summary from Goodreads)

A gorgeously written story that weaves itself through your heart.

I love this book so much. This is the second time I've read it and I love it all the more now. This time I appreciated the nuances just that little more, knowing how it ends. Sáenz is amazing. The way he says so much with so little awes me. There's no over telling throughout Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe that's for sure. There's a starkness to Sáenz's writing style that is so raw. With seemingly so little, there's such exposure. This novel packs a hefty emotional punch. It wraps a fist around your heart, it takes your breath away, has you reading through tears, laughing along, and most definitely swooning. The feeling of Aristotle and Dante resonates. This book consistently surprised me when first reading it. I didn't really have any particular expectations, but I never could have predicted how this story goes. As the prose is quite beautifully simple, the hard hitting moments really stand out. I'd have to pause to take it in, thinking 'did that really just happen?'. Even my second read through was full of pauses to marvel and take it all in. Sáenz's narrative delves into family, friendship, love, sexuality, stereotype and identity is such a unique way. It's thoughtful and gut-wrenching and honestly, Aristotle and Dante is the kind of book that really does stay with you long after you finish it.

You won't soon forget Ari and Dante either. The novel is told entirely through Ari's point of view, and the style and tone sure is fitting. Ari is such a closed off character in many ways, even to himself. It's what's so original about Aristotle and Dante, that we don't get flooded with every bit of Ari and his inner thoughts because he simply doesn't acknowledge his own feelings sometimes. I really found Aristotle and Dante quite painful to read the first time because I wanted so much and seemed not to be getting it, but it's so good when the truth becomes clear and you look back with that knowledge. It was so interesting to read this book a second time knowing everything. I read it all, most especially Ari, in a new light and it was fantastic. Like I said, I appreciated Sáenz's writing that much more and I actually found Ari's experiences even more emotional because I could read between the lines more and just get it. I think those of you who have or will reread Aristotle and Dante will understand. I have a lot of love for Dante too. I enjoyed getting to know Dante through Ari's eyes. He's so sweet and a little quirky, honest and forthright, and that Ari didn't always know what to make of Dante is amusing. Their friendship is definitely the thing I love most about this book. That ending! It's genuine and heartfelt and the ups and downs they experience move the story. Family relationships also drive Aristotle and Dante. It was brilliant to see Ari and Dante's parents as strong and present characters. Their respective relationships with their sons are heartwarming. Ari's story is most effected by that of his parents. Their silence - about his older brother and the actions that put him in prison; about the effects of war on his father - shapes Ari, defines him and his own choices. Sáenz teaches us that silence is not equated with inattention though, and oh, how I love it. Their parents are truly there for each of these boys and it is beautiful.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book that blows me away still. It is just stunning. I cannot wait to read Sáenz's sequel.



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