Friday, March 25, 2016

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Reviewed by Ambrea

Aristotle is a loner:  he likes peace and quiet, and he doesn’t talk much to other kids his age.  He has a brother, but he doesn’t know him, and his parents wont’ talk about it; he gets into fights in school, and he doesn’t have friends; he doesn’t even know how to swim very well.  Until he meets Dante.

Dante is everything Ari isn’t:  articulate, self-assured, brilliant.  He loves poetry and art, and he swims like a fish.  They’re two very different people, but, after they meet at the local swimming pool, they become the most unlikely of friends—and it isn’t long before Dante begins to change Ari’s life and open up his world.

 I absolutely loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  Although I originally encountered it as an audiobook, I absolutely loved listening to Saenz’s young adult novel.  It combines two critical elements for any audiobook:  an exceptional writer (with an exceptional story), and a phenomenal narrator.

Benjamin Alire Saenz does an excellent job of fashioning his characters.  Aristotle, for instance, is an angst-ridden teenager in search of answers to his questions and relief from his anger, and I think that Saenz properly conveys his journey of self-discovery.  Perhaps I didn’t always understand Aristotle—his emotional state, his thoughts, his experiences as a young Mexican-American growing up in California—because his life differs so greatly from mine, but I grew to enjoy his insights on life, love, and friendship.

He’s a solid character, fleshed out and fully formed.  He’s believable and, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda who narrated, he felt so real to me.  Aristotle is such a candid storyteller, laying bare his hopes and dreams and his desires—and his fears.  And the way he tells his story—the way Lin-Manuel Miranda brings him to life—kept me hooked from beginning to end.

And I loved Dante.

I have a special place in my heart for shoe-phobic, know-it-all Dante.  Like Ari, I slowly began to see him as an integral part to the story, a key piece to life.  He was so important to Ari and, likewise, he became important to me as I continued to listen to Saenz’s novel; moreover, he was just so much fun.  Articulate, smart, talkative and witty, he was the polar opposite of Ari, giving the story a good balance—and a different flavor that made it so wonderfully enjoyable.

I fell in love with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  It was the perfect combination of writer and narrator that gave this story the life and depth it deserved, and it kept me enchanted from its opening lines.  While I might not have always been able to relate to Dante and Ari—being a female of the species, I can say I’ve certainly had much different life experience—I enjoyed reading their shared story.  It’s a candid account of life and loss, happiness and tragedy, and, ultimately, love and friendship.

When I reached the final chapter, I was sad to finally let go.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my most favorite books, just breathtakingly authentic and quietly beautiful. It particularly opened my eyes as to how the Printz Award can serve as a way of discovering below-the-radar masterpieces; I don't think I'd have ever picked up the novel if it hadn't been honored a few years ago. I've been so excited the last 6 or so months because people are much more likely to listen to the audiobook when I recommend it since I can now tell them "It's read by the guy who wrote/stars in Hamilton!" ;-) I also love Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Saenz; it’s maybe the most heart-shattering book I’ve read.