Sometimes books are something amusing to read. Other times, books are incredibly important.
About a month ago, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz for the second time. The first time I read the book was a few years ago, and I didn’t quite understand the hype. But this book is one that needs to sit with you. You need to slowly digest it; the words need time to slowly seep into your brain. Sure, you can read it quickly, but I feel like if you do that, it won’t be until weeks, maybe even months later that the novel actually catches up to you.
To put it simply, this is a beautiful book.
A quick summary: Ari and Dante are two young Mexican-American boys that meet one summer and instantly connect. The novel follows the next couple of years of their friendship that slowly becomes something more.
This is not a “coming out” novel, which is the first thing Saenz does right. It’s not about coming out to your families and friends: instead, it’s about coming out to yourself. It’s about learning who you are, and coming to accept that. This message is what makes me love this book. Everyone needs to learn how to love themselves, and accept the person they are, and Ari’s journey really highlights how difficult, confusing, and painful it can be to be honest with one’s self. I love Ari, because Ari, I feel you.
What makes this book important is that:
a) Ari and Dante are Mexican, and their Mexican ethnicity really has an impact on their experiences. I am Canadian, so I am not surrounded by Chicano culture like many Americans are. Ari’s and Dante’s stories are those I have never heard before, but those that I know must be common and must be difficult. Ari and Dante are speaking for those who do not get heard.
b) As I mentioned before, this is not a coming out book, but an acceptance book. I love that. No cliche gay coming out story here.
c) Their families are amazing. Seriously. I love that there is no problem with acceptance within their families, and how Ari and Dante are trying to not only accept themselves, but to accept their families as well. And as they discover, “accepting” doesn’t mean that everything is somehow now perfect; it means accepting that nothing ever can or will be perfect.
This book is beautiful. The prose, the characters, the stories. It’s beautiful and it’s important and it’s one that will sit with you for years, I hope. And good news!! There’s going to be a sequel!! I highly recommend curling up on a nice fall Sunday, sitting by your favourite window with a cup of your warm beverage of choice, and letting this book seep into your skin.
4.5 starry skies out of 5.