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

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Bromance or Romance?

Aristotle and Dante are some of the most vivid and wonderful characters I have come across in the pages of a book. Not every author create such three dimensional characters, so I have to say that this book does in fact live up to a lot of the hype surrounding it. The question however, that weirdly kept me turning the pages was this – bromance or romance?

Aristotle, or Ari, as he prefers to be called, is a young Mexican boy growing up in America. He looks around him and sees a world full of mysteries. One mystery is his family. His father who is haunted by Vietnam. His mother who loves him anyway. His brother. Boys. Girls. All mysteries.

Then Aristotle meets Dante. They bond instantly over their absurd names and become the best of friends. For Ari, this is a first. The first time he’s met a boy who isn’t gross and offensive. And the first time he’s had a friend.

I loved these two boys and their growing friendship, the way they inspired each other and understood each other. I loved this being a story about friendship. But it’s also a story about love.

The one thing that bothered me in this story was the romantic aspect. If you haven’t read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and don’t deal well with spoilers don’t read any further!

Dante and Ari become really close throughout the novel. Their relationship, whatever it entails, is clearly the focus of the story.  Like so many people, Ari has gone through his entire schooling without meeting anyone who ‘gets’ him. Dante doesn’t feel like a real Mexican. So both of them have this feeling of displacement. Dante is also gay – which you see coming a long way before it is openly stated. I loved that he was open with Ari about this and the worries he has about letting his family down as a result. I love that Ari wasn’t judgemental of him. He still accepted Dante and continued being his friend despite knowing Dante is in love with him. But the idea that he did that only because he subconsciously wanted to be more than friends bothers me.

People are more self conscious and conscious of difference during their teenage years than any other time, and I know that even as readers, teens are always looking for someone they can relate to. If there’s no-one in the classroom like you, it’s more than reassuring to find someone like you in the pages of a book, or on a film or television show.

This is why I think it is a valid concern that a teenage boy or girl could pick up this book and think that because they share so much in common with Aristotle and Dante – the boys who don’t fit in – that it must mean something about their sexual orientation.

As I was reading this book, I really enjoyed the contrast between Dante knowing that he was different because he was gay and Ari being unable to understand why he was different. It was a bit disappointing when the implied answer to that question was that he was gay too. I guess it shows that people come to understand themselves in different ways, but I also didn’t think that Ari made the decision completely for himself. I wish that instead of telling Ari that he was in love with Dante and that he shouldn’t be afraid of being gay, that his parents had told him it’s okay to love Dante as a friend, but it’s also okay to love him as something more than that. Friendship can be a powerful bond, and it can be just as important as romantic love – if not more so.

I really struggled to write this review, because it’s hard to say that you don’t like a character turning out gay without coming across as homophobic. So I really hope I didn’t offend anyone. But for me, I loved this as a bromance and the implications of the romantic element bothered me. If you disagree with my perspective for any reason, that’s fine! I know that I’m probably one of only a few with this reaction. Maybe even the only one! I hope though, that you’ll consider my objections and if you’ve read or end up reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe that you’ll tell me what you think! It’s a very well written novel with tonnes of issues contained that merit discussion by teenagers and adults alike.

My Rating: 4/5

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