100-Character Breakdown: A poetic novel that explores intersectional issues with genuine characters and an elegant narrative.
Genre: Young adult, LGBTQ, diverse lit
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 2012)
Surrounded by secrets, 15-year-old Ari is used to keeping to himself. He lives with parents who refuse to mention his older brother, who is in prison, and his dad is closed off about his time in the Vietnam War. But then Ari meets Dante, who offers to teach him how to swim. This is just the beginning of their relationship; Dante becomes Ari’s first friend. Ari finds himself opening up to the artistic, well-spoken Dante, who talks to Ari about literature, being Mexican-American, and their families. Dante’s family couldn’t be more different from Ari’s — they are open about their love and don’t surround themselves with secrets. Their relationship deepens as conflicts arise following a car accident and Dante’s revelation of his true feelings for Ari.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an elegant novel with poetic language and a finely-crafted, narrative mix of brief memories and significant moments. Sáenz forges a beautiful depth in Ari and Dante’s relationship that deftly addresses a variety of issues, from Ari’s parents’ shame of having a son in prison to Dante’s struggle identifying with his Mexican culture and his sexuality. The novel tackles intersectionality with grace. Sáenz bolsters his deep characters with fluid and articulate writing — the blend of story and elegant prose allows this novel to easily capture its readers. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a novel about being queer, about being Latino, and about being young. Its lessons on family and self-acceptance are pure and genuine. Readers will find themselves empathizing with and caring for Ari and Dante as they fall in love with this nuanced and emotional novel.