My #Book #Review of Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz



Hi. Welcome to Book Review Time.

Today I’m going to be giving you my opinion on Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe. Quite a mouthful! Was it worth reading? Of course, with a title like that it had to be worth it!

Goodreads Synopsis:

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.  

My Review:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of The Universe is a heart-warming coming of age story and much more. It’s a novel that tackles friendship, love, family relationships, and the pain, uncertainty and difficulty in “coming” out about your sexuality to your family in such a sweet, accessible way. More than this Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of The Universe exposes difficult relationships that sometimes exist within ordinary families, and the generation gap that continues to divide teenagers and adults. So would I recommend this author Benjamin Alire Saenz to you? Most definitely.

Secrets abound in this novel, and I love, love, love books about secrets!

Secrets about Ari’s prisoner brother, his father’s experience in the Vietnam War and even Ari’s friend Dante isn’t without his secrets, Dante likes to keep a private sketch book.

Ari likes this secretive aspect of Dante:

That was interesting – that he had secrets.

The characters just feel so real, particularly Ari, he’s just so choc a bloc full of angst that the reader can’t help but be drawn into his story. Not only does Ari have trouble relating to his family he also finds that he doesn’t relate to other guys either, he finds making friends very difficult, and in particular he can’t see the appeal of obsessively talking about girls, like the lifeguards at the pool.

”A girl is like a tree covered with leaves. You just want to climb up and tear all those leaves off.”

Ari feels that he is a mystery even to himself! He just can’t fathom himself out!

Ari’s older brother is eleven years older than him, yet it is not just the age gap that distances them, his older brother is in prison. He might as well be dead as no one in the family talks about him. There are no photographs of him anywhere. Even dead people get more attention that his brother does:

There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghost of my father’s war, the ghosts of my sister’s voices. And I thought maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.

Yet the shadow of Ari’s brother follows Ari wherever he goes and whatever he does. It’s almost as if his parents are waiting for the moment that he too will let them down. Ari tries hard to be a good person, but this responsibility weighs him down.

Ari’s twin elder sisters are so much older than him too, which just adds to his sense of isolation. Ari feels that he might as well be an only child, he feels like a family mascot, rather than a valued and loved member of the family.

For Ari the teenage years from eleven to fifteen are the worst. He’s a deep, thoughtful person who is finding it hard to live up to his philosopher’s name, growing up is so very hard. Ari even feels that love is a weight,

But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.

When he meets Dante there is a subtle change in Ari. Dante introduces him to poetry, and Ari finds that he appreciates poetry and he enjoys Dante’s company too.

Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me.


As Dante was watching me search the sky through the lens of a telescope, he whispered, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.”

That made me smile. “What are you going to do with all those secrets, Dante?”

“I’ll know what to do with them,” he said, “Maybe change the world.”


Dante is freer, more sure of his place in the universe than Ari. Dante doesn’t like the encumbrance of wearing shoes. He prefers to walk barefoot. Dante understands his emotions, and is better at voicing them. He tells Ari he loves him. “I love swimming – and you.”

There is so much heart-warming humour in this novel too.

Here are a couple of lovely quotes about Ari’s dog Legs:

Maybe dogs were one of the secrets of the universe.

Dogs didn’t censor themselves.

Here’s another example of humour, this time it’s about Dante teaching Ari how to swim:

If a guy was offering to teach me how to swim, then for sure he didn’t have a life. Two guys without a life? How much fun could that be?

Ari is touched by the warmth and tenderness in Dante’s family. He wants to tell them so much about Dante but all he can say is, “Dante’s my friend.”

He holds back what he really wants to say, and this frustrates him so much. The reader can’t help but feel for him. This is one of my favourite quotes in the book, it eloquently demonstrates Ari’s difficulty at expressing his true emotions:

I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys.

Towards the end of the novel Ari has a really touching family conference with his mother and father. This part of the book is so moving, such a wonderful ending, and this quote just sums it up so well:

I (Ari) came to understand that my father was a careful man. To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.

Highly recommended for readers of Realistic Fiction, GLBT, Young Adult.

My rating: 5 brilliant stars! 

***Spoiler alert *** – Look Away

His father finally talks to him, in a really meaningful way. Ari learns that the Secrets of The Universe are simple, that he has been searching far beyond where the answers lay, because they have been within him all this time, in his heart. Ari doesn’t have to run from or hide from his emotions anymore, but embrace love and accept who he is to be truly happy.


Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe? I’d love to hear your opinion.

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M J Mallon _ YA Author


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Unique Selling Point: Unique, Imaginative, ‘Charming, enchanting and richly layered this is purely delightful.’

“This delightful book will appeal to teens and young adults who love stories filled with magical crystals, dark family curses, and mysteries waiting to be solved around every corner. Each chapter leads you on a journey of discovery where Amelina earns the right to use three wizard stones to reset the balance of time and finally break the curse that holds her family hostage. A captivating tale!” – Colleen M. Chesebro (Editor)

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