I’ve been attempting to review this book for a little over a week now, trying to collect my thoughts coherently but I kept getting stuck at the summary. It’s funny really because just before I started reading this book, I was discussing writer’s craft with one of my friends. The combination of skill and care is incredibly important when putting together a story and how certain books unfortunately fail in every conceivable way. This really is not an easy book to review, not because it’s deep and mysterious or because there’s a gigantic spoiler-alert but because it’s a coming-of-age journey with two beautiful characters that cannot be summarized easily. I’ll get into it briefly, but won’t go into great detail.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the anti-thesis of every terrible book I have read lately- there have been a lot that I haven’t even bothered to review. In fact, this is the kind of book that gives me hope that this world might not be as terrible to live in, that publishing is not a heartless business but a place where craft still survives and great stories live on. You just need to be able to find them. Like looking for Waldo.
It’s the tale of two friends, Aristotle, or Ari as he likes to be called, and Dante, who meet when they are fifteen, during a summer of utter boredom. Their friendship is a balancing act: sweet and tender, playful and serious, full of intellectual interactions and questions about life, the universe and everything in between. It is a beautiful story of friendship – although their friendship does eventually develop into an AWESOME romantic relationship that comes from falling in love with a person you already love so much. I am by no means a fan of romance novels. If fact, I tend to steer clear of them but, Ari and Dante’s friends-to-lovers story felt so right there that you won’t get a single complaint from me.
Both Ari and Dante are on the threshold of adulthood and the book is sublimely competent in illustrating those moments when you are trying to define who you are as well as who you want to be and how teenagers feel the need to be treated like people. There is family history and influencing, social restrictions and expectations of what a man should be, violence and bigotry as well as love and acceptance. Thematically speaking, this is a book that hits all the right spots. Every character is fantastically portrayed and I just loved how this is also a book about families, about relating to them and especially how finding out who you are does not stop when you become an adult, it is an ever evolving narrative of your own life. There is a lot of care given here to Ari and Dante’s parents as well. Ari made for the perfect narrator. His confusion is our confusion too. At times, I could see what his thoughts were hinting at, but since our narrator refuses to pursue those ideas, I doubted my theories. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s ability to tell the story of Ari and Dante simply blew me away. Here is where I go back to the issue of the craft of writing. This book? It’s beautifully, impeccably written. The writing is very straightforward, simple and concise. BUT never was it simplistic and one gets the feeling that every word is chosen very precisely, very carefully to create a profoundly affecting story with an intricate narrative. It is a book that trusts its readers too and there are pages and pages of pure dialogue where the reader is forced to fill in the gaps.
“The problem with my life was that is was someone else’s idea.”
I honestly could not have read this at a better time in my life.
I totally savoured this one. B-E-A-UTIFUL book.