Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a beautifully written novel that details the two summers that changed the life of the main protagonist Aristotle: When Dante walked into his life forever. Dante and Aristotle are polar opposites, yet the two become fast friends; each others only true friend. Together they learn to swim, they play games and get into trouble. Aristotle saves Dante from getting hit by a car, causing himself serious injury. The boys are separated for a year so Dante’s father can teach in Chicago but they return to El Paso the following summer. During the year apart, Dante confides in Aristotle his attraction to boys and admits that he is in love with Aristotle. When Dante’s family returns to El Paso, Dante finds a boy that he likes, but is assaulted by a group of kids. Aristotle defends Dante’s honor and discovers his true feelings for Dante.
The characters of this book at times make you laugh, cry and wax nostalgic. For me these two boys so perfectly captured my own adolescence that at times I had to simply put down the book and walk away for a moment to stop from being overcome. These are the best books in the entire world; the boys that overcome us and envelope us in their stories. Aristotle is tough, but is plagued by the mystery of his older brother’s imprisonment and the trauma his father suffered in Vietnam that he has trouble connecting to others. Dante is smart and seems to be confident, yet underneath it all has his own struggles finding friends and true companionship.
This masterpiece entered my life totally by accident. I was shopping at my local bookstore and the owner said that a man walked in and told her that whatever she was reading she needed to drop it and read this book. It was so stirring an endorsement that I couldn’t resist buying the book. And I must say that the man was right. I regret one that I didn’t push this to the front of to read list. I saw myself in Aristotle’s desire for independence; his confusion and his struggle to come to terms with his feelings. These so accurately coincided with the feelings I had at his age. I saw my own struggle with the loss of my father when I was young in his pining to know what had happened to his bother Bernardo. In Dante’s fierce intelligence I saw myself and in his pure and honest devotion to Aristotle I saw that which took me so long; establishing a firm and true connection with someone I could love forever.
Aristotle and Dante make you laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry and make you remember with fondness the time in your life when you finally became aware of your true self. Novels such as this work are important for young people to have access to. Too many time the LGBTIQA community is sidelined and marginalized in literature and when gay men are portrayed it is in a more overtly sexual way and you don’t often experience the community in such an innocent and affectionate manner. For young boys struggling with their feelings and in desperate search of acceptance; Alrire Saenz crafted a story that is both endearing and cathartic; meaningful and engrossing; educational and entertaining; with a story so humble, yet inspiring.
So, please don’t do what I did and pick up the book or add it to a book list you will eventually get to. Go to your local bookstore, buy this book, read it and share it with someone that needs it.