Book Reviews

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe


Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Released: February 21, 2012

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


I had to do a bit of soul searching after finishing this book.  I really wanted to like it more because a co-worker recommended it to me and she just loved it. I adored Eleanor & Park which I had just finished reading at that point and she put this book on my shelf. It sat there for a while before I finally decided to read it. So because of her high recommendation, I was expecting to really like this. The cover is also beautiful.
  • Beautiful cover. I mean look at it, it’s definitely eye catching. Book covers help pull readers in. This one definitely does that.
  • Character of Aristotle. I liked him for a few different reasons. He was an angsty teenager, which can either go positively or negatively and for the most part I liked him. I mean, understand that he was also really annoying too at times, but he’s a teenager who is an internal person, he kind of sort of gets a pass. While he was the one mainly telling the story, he almost remained a mystery to not only the reader but to himself. He’s very much a loner, lives with his parents and two older sisters and has a mysterious older brother who is in jail. Over the course of the book, Ari grows up but pretty much remains his own person. Until the end which I will get to later.
  • Aristotle and Dante’s friendship. I love to read young adult novels that feature two characters exploring their friendship. I had no idea what this book was about outside of reading the inside flap so I was expecting a story about two teenage boys who are complete opposites but manage to find solace in each other’s friendship. Which is what we get in the first part of the book. They meet because Ari goes to the swimming pool to escape his family’s silence but he cannot swim, which is weird, but Dante notices and offers to teach him. It begins that way. They also connect over the “silliness” of their classical names. They spend the entire summer together, Dante is the loud one of the pair and he just talks and shares his poetry while Aristotle just listens and experiences Dante’s boldness and just overall eccentricities.Their families are even different (though they all eventually become friends), Dante’s parents are loving and involved, which surprises Aristotle that when he goes over to his house, it’s almost like a complete shock.  Eventually summer is over and Dante is moving to Chicago so their friendship comes to a dramatic end almost.
  • Shared moments with his father. I think his father was the only other family member I actually liked. He was a Vietnam war veteran and he’s very similar to Aristotle. He’s silent. Of course Ari feels shut out from his father because of this, but at the same time, he thinks it’s their only form of communication is that they’re silent together. I actually kind of liked that. Later, his father opens up to him more, he shares with Aristotle the truth about his older brother which allows for a bit more closeness.
  • The Parents. Very supportive people, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how great these parents were. Sure, Ari’s dad was a bit far to reach but when he and Ari begin to understand each other, it’s all good. I really loved the mothers, especially when they were together. There’s also this great character addition of this dog “Legs” whom I also just loved to pieces.
  • The talk of identity. YA books are full of identity searching which can include a lot of things. As the book continued, it was obvious to me that Dante was gay and that he was in love with Ari, whereas I was thinking Ari’s discovery was that he was angry for being left behind by his family, for being kept out of family secrets, for feeling alone and that he could actually be happy about his life once he finds a way to talk about it. Dante worries that his parents won’t accept his choice but the do as they love their son, Ari accepts it as well because duh Dante’s his best friend, his only friend but during this time period, not everyone is going to which is okay. There’s a parallel with Aristotle’s aunt who passes away, Aristotle’s extended family didn’t all show up for the funeral due to the aunt’s lifestyle which causes Ari to think and be sad for her.
    • A big struggle is also Dante dealing with his Mexican heritage. He often questioned and struggled with it. It was pretty interesting.
  • Slow. The beginning was extremely slow. It took forever for me to really start getting into it. I’ve always loved to read and I’ve always chosen books that sucked me in pretty quickly. It’s very rare that I read a book and it takes me a long time to even get started. This book started off so very slow to me that I it took me a long time to really get moving. I would read a few chapters, put it down for a while, read a few more chapters and it really began to irritate me because I was already bored. It picked up in the middle.
  • The Plot. Still, after a long time, I’m not sure it actually had one. I mean, it had moments, and things it talked about but if I had to actually describe the plot of this book to someone, there’s no way I could because… what exactly is the plot? That’s problematic.
  • Dialogue. Sometimes YA books come off a bit pretentious and tedious to me. These were 15-16 year old boys in the 80s. Their dialogues, especially with each other, I thought was strange. It was trying too hard to be deep and meaningful and I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t natural. t didn’t know they were supposed to be teenagers, I would have assumed they were college students set in current times. Just too contemporary. Of course, teenagers don’t sound like idiots, at least not all of them, but I think some authors forget how teenagers talk and act (Looking at you John Green). They’re not adults yet. Allow them to be teenagers because while adults read YA, mostly teenagers read these books.
  • The sudden introduction of Aristotle’s sexuality. As I said before, it was obvious that Dante was gay and in love with Ari. It wasn’t like BAM but it wasn’t completely subtle either. Which is fine. I thought it’d be interesting to have two male best friends, where one is gay and the other is straight and they’re okay with being friends. There wasn’t any hint, at least to me, that Aristotle felt the same about Dante, that he was hiding it. The book was in FIRST PERSON! Shouldn’t there something in his head if he EVER thought that? He read everything he thought, even if he did hide it later, we at least knew about it. If there was cues that he thought about it, or that he wasn’t sure how he felt then it’d be different but he never showed interest. He wasn’t jealous when Dante talked about kissing or being with other guys, he didn’t seem to care, he just accepted that his best friend was gay. When Dante wanted to kiss him, Ari refused and seemed very uncomfortable with the idea, even though Dante was being rather pushy about it. They kiss but Ari even says he felt nothing which hurt Dante’s feelings. The only time anything was ever indicated was when Ari was infatuated with a girl at school and was obsessed with kissing her.
    • What made it worse is the fact that the adults seemed to force what Aristotle should be feeling on him. There’s a scene where Dante tries to help a bird that is in the middle of the street, Ari saves him and is extremely injured. So, the doctor was so sure that he did it because he cared for Dante more than just a friend. I remember thinking “Okay… what’s your point? If Ari thought he could save him then does it have to be more than that? Especially if this is the first time he’s had a friend?” Even Ari was confused as to what he was trying to indicate. Then his parents literally sit him down and pointed out all the reasons why Aristotle loved another boy: He beat up some kids who beat the crap out of Dante, he saved his life from the car and that he did both of those things without hesitation. I’m sorry, but why? If this is supposed to be a self discovery of identity why have adults tell this kid how he feels and that he should feel it? If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t. Since this is towards the end of the book, the positivity I was feeling started to deplete. Again, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a gradual realization for him but it wasn’t. It was so random that I thought that reveal was damaging to the character that was built upon throughout the story.
  • The ending. The ending shouldn’t be something that I dislike about a book but I feel as if the author was grasping at straws in the last third of the book. After Ari’s sudden realization (In my mind it’s still bull), moments happen and finally Ari and Dante take Ari’s truck to the desert. Dante tells Ari he can’t be friends with him anymore due to his feelings for him that aren’t reciprocated. Ari tells him how he feels and that he lied about how he didn’t like the kiss before and now it’s all great! Let’s kiss again! Ari asks Dante to kiss him but Dante refuses and insists that Ari does it this time which he does. Now they’re together in the bed of the truck and Ari goes through a few last thoughts: wondering why he was ashamed in the first place to love Dante? (probably because it wasn’t true until his parents made it true), realizing that he loved Dante all along and that he found the secrets of the universe in Dante (which I understand discovering who you are thanks to the influence from someone who seems more “well adjusted” in life than you but again bull) and now everything is perfect. *rolls eyes*
Overall, I really wanted to like it. So many good and glowing reviews, the beautiful cover, the ‘ohmigosh it’s so beautiful! It’s so honest!’ bleh bleh bleh… outside of the beautiful cover, I don’t see it. It had it’s moments but I can’t say I liked it those moments enough to vouch for the rest of the novel. There isn’t a plot, it drags on for sooooo long, there are very few likable characters (it’s really subjective) but if you like someone then I think it’s easy to remain attached to them for the most part, the dialogue is nice at times but for the most part it’s pretentious. I really disliked the ending and I didn’t like the “twist” either. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is not a book I would probably pick up again to read but I would kind of recommend it as the journey will be different for someone else.
3 out of 5 stars. A half a star for the cover most definitely.
Similar books with identity themes, coming of age, LBGT, etc:
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (superior to Aristotle & Dante)
Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (meh)
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Hero by Perry Moore

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: