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Beautiful coming of age story
on 22 March 2013
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming of age story set in El Paso, Texas in the late 1980s. It's a story of a fifteen year old boy who wants to find out who he is but doesn't really know where to start. I'm more than a little bit in love with this book. It's almost divine.
Aristotle, known generally as Ari, is miserable. Its summer and he doesn't have any friends. He's the sort of character who chooses to be aloof and distant from people. He doesn't seem to want any friends. But one morning he goes swimming and meets Dante Quintana. Dante offers to teach Ari to swim and perhaps because they share "weighty" names or perhaps because of Dante's laugh, Ari accepts. It's the beginning of a friendship which fills the book.
There is drama in this book. Great big, undeniably huge plot turns. I don't want to give too much away about those but for a book which is essentially about getting to the heart of a character, it really does surprise you with action. That being so, it is a reflective book. Ari succumbs to bouts of melancholy. He's in limbo. He's no longer a boy but not yet a man. He lacks control of in life - his mother is often telling him what he should be doing. He still has to go to school and at a later stage he gets a job. He's also divided by cultures - he's Mexican living in America and although Ari feels he is truly Mexican, Dante is constantly seeking to be more so.
This novel is in part about growing into the person you want to be or rather realising who you are and being happy about it. But it's also about communication. Ari's father is a war veteran and keeps his son at a painful distance. Ari desperately wants to know more about his father and to share his pain. Ari also wants to speak about his older brother who is not around. But neither his mother nor father is willing to do so. In contrast to this fragile code of silence, is Dante. Dante who never shuts up, who is stubborn as hell, who lives with his heart on his face, who is impulsive and wonderfully alive.The relationship between the two boys is touching. It's complicated but it's meaningful.
The chapters of this book are really short. I read this book in two days and I am so glad that I bought it. The title captured my attention and it won an award in the US recently so I figured it was worth taking a chance on it. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a rewarding, heart-warming read. The writing is exquisite. Yes, I am definitely more than a little in love with this book. I can't wait to read something else by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.