Saenz, B. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster BFYR.
Plot Summary: When Ari meets Dante he has no real friends and the boys quickly become best friends. This doesn’t change when Ari saves Dante’s life or when Dante moves away for a school year or even when Dante comes out as gay. The boys friendship can survive anything until Dante is badly beaten by several neighborhood teens when he is caught making out with his boyfriend. After Ari hunts down and beats up one of the boys he realizes he cannot remain friends with Dante he needs something more. The book ends with boys at the very start of their new relationship.
Critical Evaluation: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe unfolds in an interesting way. Once Dante comes out as Gay Ari is uncomfortable with some of the conversations they have including a letter Dante writes asking him about his masturbation habits. He chalks this up to Dante just being weird and more open than he is but this can be seen as foreshadowing to Ari coming out later in the book. This combined with the fact that he lets Dante convince him they should kiss just as an experiment pretty easily and of course the fact that he pushed Dante out of the way of an oncoming vehicle to save his life long before any of this add to this foreshadowing. However, not all readers will necessarily make these conclusions due to Ari’s general uncomfortableness and refusal to talk about his feelings. The book has a lot of character development most obviously apparent in Ari and Dante as they discover their sexuality but also in Ari’s family as he and his parents become closer. Ari has an older brother in prison that his parents refuse to talk about. He finally learns about him after his aunt dies and when his parents tell him about what happened and share more family stories and memories they all become a lot closer. It is actually Ari’s parents that first suggest to him that he is gay. Overall the story has a very intentional feel with everything that happens leading to the next event or realization and pretty steady character growth.
Reader’s Annotation: Ari has no friends until he meets Dante and begins a weird, wonderful, and powerful friendship.
Author Information: Benjamin Alire Saenz has written poetry, short stories, novels, young adult literature and children’s books. He has won several awards for his books including the ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. He is also currently the chair of the creative writing department at the University of Texas, El Paso. After coming out as gay at the age of 54 he began exploring LGBT themes in his writing.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Curriculum Ties: This would be a great book to use to examine LGBTQ literature.
Booktalk Ideas: 1) Why do you think Dante realized and accepted he was gay before Ari?
2) Where you surprised at all when Ari came out? How long had you known he was gay and what made you realize this?
Reading Level & Interest Level: This book is listed as being for readers age 12-17 which seems appropriate.
Challenge Issues: This is a book about gay teens and includes some discussion of masturbation as well as kissing between two males which some people may object to. However, the book contains nothing graphic or gratuitous and according to the publisher’s website has currently won 26 awards. Several of these awards were from the ALA including the Michael L. Prinz Honor Award and the Top Ten fiction for Young Adults. As well as other awards like the LAMBDA Literary Award and School Library Journal Best Books of the of the Year.
Why is it included?: This is a really sweet love story that I think many teens will enjoy. It is also a great book for adding diversity to a library collection as a LGBTQ book with characters of Mexican decent.