Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Author)

Reading Level: 8th − 9th Grade
A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship--the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
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Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Fifteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari) has always felt lonely and distant from people until he meets Dante, a boy from another school who teaches him how to swim. As trust grows between the boys and they become friends (a first for Ari), Ari's world opens up while they discuss life, art, literature, and their Mexican-American roots. Additionally, the influence of Dante's warm, open family (they even have a "no secrets" rule) is shaping Ari's relationship with his parents, particularly in regard to a family secret; Ari has an older brother in prison, who no one ever mentions. In a poetic coming-of-age story written in concise first-person narrative, Saenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood) crystallizes significant turning points in the boys' relationship, especially as Ari comes to understand that Dante's feelings for him extend beyond friendship. The story swells to a dramatic climax as Ari's loyalties are tested, and he confronts his most deeply buried fears and desires. It's a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love--whether romantic or familial--should be open, free, and without shame. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

Copyright 2011 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 9 Up—In the summer of 1987 in El Paso, TX, two 15-year-old loners meet when Dante offers to teach Ari to swim, and they have a laugh over their unusual names. Though polar opposites in most aspects other than age and Mexican heritage, the teens form an instant bond and become inseparable. This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return. Two incidents, one in which Ari saves Dante's life and his family's temporary move to Chicago, help Dante understand that he is gay and in love with his friend. Yet, Ari can't cross that line, and not until Dante is hospitalized in a gay-bashing incident does he begin to realize the true depth of the love he has for him. With the help of his formerly distant, Vietnam-damaged father, Ari is finally able to shed his shame—the shame of his anger, of his incarcerated brother, of being different—and transition from boy to man. While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.—Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfield

Copyright 2012 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Ari's first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance."—The Horn Book
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Benjamin Alire Saenz is an American Book Award-winning author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angels Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, the Southwest Books Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date
April 20, 2014
BISAC categories
YAF058120 - Young Adult Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
YAF018000 - Young Adult Fiction | Family | General (see also headings under Social Themes)
YAF031000 - Young Adult Fiction | LGBT
Library of Congress categories
Coming of age
Pura Belpre Award
Winner 2013 - 2013
Michael L. Printz Award
Honor Book 2013 - 2013
Stonewall Book Award
Winner 2013 - 2013
Tayshas Reading
Commended 2013 - 2013
Lambda Literary Awards
Winner 2013 - 2013
Americas Award for Children & Young Adult Literature
Commended 2013 - 2013
Volunteer State Book Awards
Nominee 2014 - 2015
Black-Eyed Susan Award
Nominee 2013 - 2014
Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award
Nominee 2014 - 2015
Florida Teens Read
Finalist 2014 - 2015
Virginia Readers Choice Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015
Nutmeg Book Award
Nominee 2016 - 2016

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