Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review: Darkness and Light

July 31, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 5 stars, Books, Reviews

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review: Darkness and LightAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon and Schuster Australia on April 1, 2014
Source: Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.

This is a story about two boys, representing darkness and light, who form a beautiful friendship, discover who they are, and eventually, fall in love.

Ari (or Aristotle) is the dark, in both his skin and his thoughts. He has trouble connecting with his family, with his post-war dad who keeps to himself and his inmate brother which no one talks about. In contrast, Dante is the light, he’s a talkative, emotional and kind hearted soul who just shines through the way he connects with Ari.

Both boys struggle with their own identity and go on a journey to “discover the secrets of the universe” to find their place in the world. One will go down the path of a lone soldier, filled with angry thoughts and emotion, while the other will experiment, live like variety is the spice of life and divulge his deepest thoughts to his new friend.

Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. Not in my world, they weren’t. 

Ari is very much a boy’s boy who prefers to talk with his fists. He keeps to himself a lot and is afraid of letting his dark thoughts show through. He mainly keeps others at a distance, until Dante comes along and forms a bond with him. He never pushes Ari to share more than he’s comfortable with, and his talkative nature suits the more reserved Ari really well. You really see how Ari finds the lighter parts of life with Dante around, and it was beautiful to see. The boys needed each other in their journey to discover the deeper parts of life, to feel love and pain and understand all the things that make us human. I loved seeing how their friendship developed and how their differences in personality came through.

Their families were also a very present and important part of their lives. Both sets of parents really cared about their sons, even though their relationship and parenting was quite different. Ari has a big family, with two sisters, parents and his unknown brother and they kept a lot of secrets about his brother to protect him. Dante’s parents on the other hand, were very warm, welcoming and caring, which showed Ari what a positive influence parents could be on his life. It was wonderful seeing how their parents understood their sons really well and the acceptance that they showed. We need more positive examples of families in YA today and I’m sure many people found their influence very heart warming.

…Dante’s mother loved him more than he would ever know. I didn’t know what to do with that piece of information. So I just kept it inside. That’s what I did with everything. Kept it inside. 

Diversity is not always done well, but in Aristotle and Dante, it was seamless. Both boys are from Mexican families, and it didn’t shy away from their culture and stereotypes throughout the book. At one stage, Ari gets a red pickup truck car and talks about pimping it up, which was hilarious.


Aristotle and Dante is a story about identity, finding your relevance in the world, learning that it’s okay to go against the convention if it will result in beauty and happiness. It just so happens that there is a LGBT element in it, and the relationship that develops between these two achingly beautiful boys couldn’t be more right for each other.

It is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, in the writing and the subject matter, and it is undoubtedly, my favourite read of 2014.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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63 responses to “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review: Darkness and Light

  1. Oh Jeann, you gave such a good insight into this book and it's given me a whole new perspective on it- making me even MORE excited about reading it (hopefully soon)! You pointed out and gave depth to things in the story I hadn't heard of before, and I really, really enjoyed your wonderful review! I hope I like it nearly so much as you did!

  2. Oh dear lord, Jeann.

    This is like the umpteenth rave review for this book that I have read! I absolutely love your, especially. it makes me want to read this book EVEN MORE (which I pretty much did not think was possible). It just sounds incredibly beautiful and touching and heartbreakingly gorgeous. I need it in my life, and I am still cursing the fact that no bookstores near me have a copy *wails*
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  3. Gorgeous review, Jeann! This one has been on my ASAP TBR list for a looonnngggg time. Almost everyone I know has given it a rating better than 4 stars! Diversity? A beautiful family? LGBT? A gorgeous meaning? I think you've just captivated me even more to grab this beauty.
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  4. You know when you keep reading amazing reviews for a book, but when you actually read the novel, it just doesn't "click" with you? That was this with me. 🙁 This was a book I really wished I had loved–and I can't honestly pin-point what it was about it I didn't like, apart from saying it didn't "click" with me. However, in saying that, I did adore the writing. I loved the dialogue and the descriptions, but for some reason I just didn't seem to love it like everyone else!

    Great review, though. I'd definitely pick up another book by this author again. : )
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  5. I most definitely need to read this. This has been at the top of my mental TBR (Mental bc I still need to get a copy) but I am EXCITED. Honestly it doesn't sound that great from the synopsis, but no one will stop raving about it! So of course, I just HAVE to read it. *Dramatic sigh*
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  6. I've heard NOTHING but great things about this one, and though I've yet to add it to my shelf, your review is utterly divine, Jeann. I love the sound of the characters, and to hear that there's a good balance – despite being character-driven – has me sold! Lovely review 🙂

  7. I neeeeed to read this. Seriously. I actually have a copy and if books had eyes it would be glaring at me right now. I'm so amazed by all the glowing reviews I keep seeing! I'm really into character driven books so I think I'll really enjoy this. Great review!
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  8. Gah! So glad to hear you liked this so much Jeann! 😀 I've heard nothing but glowing reviews about it from around the blogosphere, so I guess it's time to take the hint and get myself a copy, right? xD Thanks for sharing, and lovely review! <3

  9. This is a gorgeous review Jeann, and you have me wanting to pick this book up immediately! I just have one question for you – does it end well for them? I can't deal with books that don't end well or are left wide open. I don't like to guess what's going to happen to the characters, I want to KNOW. I can't help it:) Ari and Dante sound absolutely amazing, and I want good things for them!!!

  10. I have read so many good things about this book, Jeann. I'm still not sure why I haven't read it yet. I love the sound of the two boys and it seems like their characters were very well-developed. It's also nice that there are some positive families in this because most often, YA books have evil families or missing families. It's always refreshing when there are families that are actually part of the kids' lives.

    I definitely need to check this book out soon.

    Lovely review, Jeann!

  11. So many people tell me to read this novel and I always forget to, but I will, one day, I promise. I will scour the libraries in search this book, and if it isn't there, I'll cry. It sounds so beautiful and the love that the author holds no bounds on the culture and diversity, thats always wonderful. Great review Jeann! 🙂
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  12. Wow, this book really does sound beautiful! I have been wanting to read this for the longest time but I just can't seem to find the time to finally do it. I always shy away from LGBT novels because I'm afraid that the author would trivialize or overdo this "aspect" of the story so I really love that this book was hugely a story about two boys who wanted to find their way into the world. Lovely review, Jeann! 🙂
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  13. I am literally flailing in my chair as I read your review. I ADORED this book and you couldn't have put it better. It's really written so gorgeously and was actually my first LGBT book (books with LGBT characters don't count :P).

    I love how the author contrasted the two but also gave them similarities! I LOVED watching the two connect and I may have read the ending scene… a handful of times.

    I am SOOOOO incredibly happy you loved this as well, Jeann!

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  14. I don't think i've heard one bad thing about this book. I have to admit i still haven't read it (i don't know why, everyone loves it and it seems like the type of book that would really affect me) but i'm making a point if reading it before this summer is over! Lovely review Jeann! I love hearing about books with LGBT and diversity 🙂
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  15. This book was waaaay too beautiful. Like, I thought I might not like it (particularly when it took a while for the plot to get a move on) but ALL that dialogue?! It was brilliant. The banter was perfect, the relationships grew sooo beautifully. And Ari and Dante themselves? ERMAGERD. All the feels with this one.
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  16. I like the sound of this relationship Dante and Ari form and yay for a huge impact of families. It's wonderful to hear that the two boys who fall in love actually have great support system, you know? I'm so glad you liked this diverse stroy. While it's not for me, I am so glad to see that a LGBT book has been done right and you adored it. Beautiful review, my dear!
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