When I picked up “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” I didn’t put it back down until I finished it four hours later.
In the novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, we follow a teenage boy named Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza. Much like his namesake, Ari has a philosophical and curious mind. What’s the purpose of birds? His new friend, Dante Quintana, has answers for some of his questions. To teach people about the sky. Dante seems to have a lot of things figured out.
Reading this book feels like being inside the mind of a teenage boy. It’s packed with sarcastic humor, blunt thoughts about his peers, and worries about anything he could possibly worry about. Being inside the mind of a queer boy in the 1980s comes along with relatable misconceptions about himself and the world. To a queer audience, the perspective is familiar and validating.
The realistic portrayal of the characters is one item on the long list of things that make this novel spectacular. Each character has depth to them. Everyone has flaws, especially Ari himself. He finds himself having lapses in judgment and errors in logic (or lack thereof) often.
Even though Ari has a hard time accepting some things about himself, his parents never do. Despite him and his father having a rocky relationship, both of his parents are fully supportive. The positive relationship between both Ari and Dante’s families is a refreshing take. Many other queer novels center disapproving parents as a major conflict, and while that’s a very real struggle that many members of the community face, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see functional family relationships. The parents in this book never struggle with Ari or Dante’s queer identities. Both Ari and Dante’s parents encourage the two of them to be together, despite the hardships they’ll inevitably face.
Along with heartwarming relationships, Ari and Dante’s story is easy to follow. The novel has several sections of short chapters. If you ever feel like a book is going on forever, and not in a good way, you’ll love the way that these chapters are broken up. They’re separated in a way that makes sense, but puts them into more easily digestible parts that make it difficult to put down.
The twists and turns of “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” all lead to a pleasant and satisfying ending. Through the tears, there are plenty of laughs. (Almost) every problem is resolved by the end. Ari and Dante’s happy ending is something that every queer teen deserves to read.