AJP’s take on Benjamin Alire Saenz’s “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (2014)

This past Sunday, I finished reading the first novel that I have read in a really, really long time. I read all the time but mostly nonfiction.

And I couldn’t have started with a better novel. Dr. Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is excellent. I don’t want to provide a long review or a detailed critique here — I’m going to make my students do that! 😉 

I mainly just want to say that I really, really enjoyed this novel. My friend, Dr. Trevor Boffone did a good job recommending this book! 

This book had me in tears a few times.

The story follows the life of Ari (Aristotle) and Dante as they become close friends and fall in love and as they discover the complicated nature of life and of “not fitting” the mold of other young adults. The narrative is mostly set in El Paso, Texas, in the 1980s and centers around the trajectories of two Mexican American families and the related traditions, memories, hopes, and fears. 

The language is beautiful and clear, even, poetic at times. It’s most captivating, too – once you start the book, it’s impossible to put down.

I especially enjoyed Ari’s character. Like me, Ari is what is called “introverted.” Ari sees the world through uniquely creative and critical eyes. Ari is careful who he befriends. Ari is cautious. Ari also has medical challenges. 

While this book is sort of aimed at teenagers/young adults, it has relevance for all readers and is currently used in undergraduate and graduate courses. It’s one I’m planning to use in the Spring for some kind of optional/extra credit assignment in all of my classes, since this book has relevance to my Mexican American History II, Texas History, and Queer Studies classes.

This is one of those books that could make a really beautiful movie!

Read the book, and let me know what you think! 🙂 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda