Why you should read Aristotle and Dante immediately this summer || notes from my re-read

Hi friends, and happy Monday!

About two years ago, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz for the first time, and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite books. I just wanted to shout from the rooftops about how much I love this book and how everyone should pick it up ASAP so we can shout from said rooftops together.

Ever since my first read through of it, Aristotle and Dante has been mocking me from my shelf, begging for a re-read. Not to mention, Sophie over at Me and Ink recently wrote a spoiler-free review of the book, and she perfectly illustrated what was so wonderful about the writing, the characters, and the dialogue. Soon enough, Sophie had me experiencing all of the emotions again. (Please go check out her incredible review!)

So, I decided to abandon my TBR to visit some old friends at a swimming pool, to watch boys try to save birds, and to have my heart broken and mended back together, which brings us to this sort-of list.

Fangirling aside, Aristotle and Dante is an unbelievable story about figuring out who you are and being okay with that identity, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, and how difficult it can be to exist in more than one culture. It focuses on a number of topics that are imperative to talk about, opening the door for countless conversations.

Without further ado, these are the reasons why I think you should read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe immediately this summer.


Synopsis: 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.


Diversity

There are countless types of diversity. I guess, without being cheesy, you could say that even diversity is diverse. From different races to different religions, each and every individual has aspects or elements that differ from the person next to them. And arguably, one of my favorite characteristics of Aristotle and Dante is the fact that Benjamin Alire Sáenz included numerous types of diversity within its 359 pages.

Diversity of sexuality

“‘There are worse things in the world than a boy who likes to kiss other boys.'”

From my perspective, this book is about 90% focused on different elements of a person’s identity, one of those elements being sexuality. I obviously don’t want to get into too much detail about the characters’ sexualities for fear of spoilers, but I do want to mention the amount of self-discovery regarding sexuality. Because this book is categorized in the young adult genre, the two main characters are 16 and 17 years old, the prime age for discovering yourself. It’s a time of being unsure, questioning everything, and (unfortunately) feeling inadequate. And, in my opinion, Aristotle and Dante beautifully paints the progression of self-hatred to self-acceptance.

Similarly, Aristotle and Dante also paints a wonderful picture of someone being sure of themselves, being sure of their sexuality. Even more so, we’re shown what unfortunately often happens when someone is comfortable in their sexuality and has a significant other that may not be deemed as “traditionally acceptable.”

I also think that it’s important to note that Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the author of Aristotle and Dante, even disclosed that he had difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality due to traumatic childhood experiences, leading him to not feel comfortable coming out until he was 54 years old. Sáenz even mentioned that exploring LGBTQ+ themes in his books has helped him work out the internal struggles of his sexuality. So, you know that Aristotle and Dante is coming straight from the heart and from someone who has experienced very similar events.

Of gender

“And why was it that some guys had tears in them and some had no tears at all? Different boys lived by different rules.”

Arguably, one of my favorite diversities showcased throughout the whole book was the diversity of gender and gender roles. The two title characters couldn’t be more different from one another. Ari is very much hesitant in his role as a male and constantly questions about what being a boy really means. Dante is rather comfortable with his emotions, showing those emotions, and talking about his feelings with people around him. Aristotle and Dante is an awesome example in that there is no “right” way to be a boy. You’re more than welcome to start crying after thinking of a hurt bird, or you’re allowed to be more internal and keep your emotions inside if that better suits you.

In showing more than one type of boy, and showing that being any type of boy is okay, a number of readers are going to feel rightfully validated should they not align with more traditional views of gender roles and norms.

Of family

“It made me smile, the way they got along, the easy and affectionate way they talked to each other as if love between a father and a son was simple and uncomplicated.”

Before I dive into the transparent differences between the main families included within the book, let’s break down both Ari’s family and Dante’s.

Ari is 16 years old (at the start of the book) and has three siblings. He has twin sisters that are 12 years older than him, and he repeatedly states that his sisters often joke around that he was born into the family “too late” (leading to yet another issue of identity, which we’ll talk about later). Ari also has a brother that is 11 years older than him, a brother that he idolized when he was a kid but has since spent his time in prison, becoming a sore topic of conversation for Ari’s parents. Ari’s father then is a war veteran struggling with PTSD, which almost forces Ari to become friendlier with his mom to overcompensate.

And on the other side of the spectrum is Dante’s family. Dante is an only child with a mother and father that are happily married. I think that their family dynamic is best represented on page 24, when Dante takes Ari back to his house. Ari observes (about Dante’s father): “He seemed like a man who was in love with being alive. So different from my father, who had always kept his distance from the world. There was a darkness in my father that I didn’t understand. Dante’s father didn’t have any darkness in hm. Even his black eyes seemed to be full of light.” Dante then goes on to have a conversation with his father, not including Ari, for nearly a full page before his father politely points to Ari, further cementing the differences between the two families.

Ari is very much withdrawn from his family because of the conditions listed above, whereas Dante is undisputably close with his family. Showing these different types of families, I think, will provide an incredible amount of comfort to so many people that don’t necessarily find their own families to be “normal” or “traditional.”

Of (culture) identity

“She had always known exactly who she was. I wanted to ask her, Mom, when will I know who I am?”

Perhaps one of the most important diversities showcased within the book is the different types of culture identity.

I think that it’s fair to say that Ari is very comfortable with his culture and his place within his culture. While there are moments in which he comments on how few other Mexican-Americans he actually knows (like when he first meets Dante’s father), overall, Ari feels like he fits in.

Dante though feels as if he’s lost in translation. He constantly struggles with the idea of what it means to be Mexican-American, and he often finds himself stuck in how to conduct himself. In a conversation with Ari, Dante talks about his insecurities in his heritage and where they stemmed from: “‘It’s like my mom and dad created a whole new world for themselves. I live in their new world. But they understand the old world, the world they come from—and I don’t. I don’t belong anywhere. That’s the problem.'” Later, Dante even remarks that if he had a “Mexican name,” he might’ve felt “more Mexican.” Then, in a letter to Ari, Dante writes: “Mexicans are everywhere. We’re like sparrows. You know, I still don’t really know if I’m a Mexican. I don’t think I am. What am I, Ari?

Throughout the whole book, Dante is constantly struggling with his identity because he feels unaccepted in both the Mexican community and the American community. He even often refers to himself as not being “a real Mexican.”

To kind of work against this difficulty Dante is experiencing in accepting himself, Benjamin Alire Sáenz includes a conversation between Ari and his mom in which his mom remarks, “‘I’m an educated women. That doesn’t un-Mexicanize me, Ari.'” in response to Ari hearing something from her that he didn’t necessarily want to hear, humanizing this tendency to evaluate oneself in terms of their culture’s stereotypes.

I really loved being able to read both of these boys’ experience in coming to terms with themselves and wanted to learn more about the author’s own experiences in this area, if he had any. During this research, I came across this incredible interview posted back in 2017 by BookPeople, in which Benjamin Alire Sáenz touches on his identity and the struggles he faced growing up

Mental health/illness

“I wondered how that felt, to really like yourself. And I wondered why some people didn’t like themselves and others did. Maybe that’s just the way it was.”

Aristotle and Dante is told entirely from Ari’s perspective, so we’re really only able to learn firsthand about his mental health and well being, and hear about others’ mental health through what they choose to share.

I think it’s actually putting it lightly in saying that Ari simply dislikes himself to the highest degree. He’s constantly degrading himself and always wondering what it would be like to actually like the person that he is. This self-hatred started at the very beginning of the book when Ari mentioned that he wasn’t popular: “How could I be? In order to be wildly popular you had to make people believe that you were fun and interesting. I just wasn’t that much of a con artist.”

And when Ari is talking badly about himself, he’s noticing the good in other people and how different they are from him: For example, Ari is completely and utterly astounded by Dante’s positivity and self-assurance (but, remember from Dante’s thoughts about his heritage, even he doesn’t fully love himself:): “And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness.”

Other than Ari mentally treating himself badly, we don’t explicitly see his mental illness until he allows himself to feel his emotions and breakdown: “Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightening and thunder.”

I already brought up Ari’s father previously, but it’s really important to dicuss just how much his life, and his family’s life, is affected by his PTSD. And, as Ari’s mom puts it, “‘you and your father, you’re fighting your own private wars.'” Throughout the whole book, Ari is at odds with his dad because his dad doesn’t often indulge in conversation because of PTSD. Both Ari and his father internalize all of their feelings and never talk to one another because of their respective battles, leaving major room for miscommunication and missed communication.

Setting

Perhaps the most simple reason of why you should read Aristotle and Dante this summer is the setting. Starting in 1987 El Paso, you follow Ari and Dante as they grow up over a full year. The start of the book is in the midst of summer—where we’re surrounded with days spent at the pool, time spent outside making up mindless games, and summer storms. As the book progresses though, you get a little bit of insight into their lives during the school year before moving quickly back into the summer.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a great read at any time of the year, but summer is perhaps the most perfect because of when the story takes place.


From it’s countless representations of different diversities to the realistically heartbreaking storyline and characters, I promise this won’t be a book you regret adding to your TBR.

So, have I convinced you to read Aristotle and Dante yet this summer?

This post quickly became a labor of love and took up a rather large chunk of time to write, but I’m so beyond in love with this book, and I think you will be too.

Have you read Aristotle and Dante before? What is one reason you think everyone should read it? Are you hoping to pick it up soon? What are you looking forward to reading in the book? Let’s chat!

15 thoughts on “Why you should read Aristotle and Dante immediately this summer || notes from my re-read

  1. Ahh… this post is perfect– I was cheering along to every point you made and why it is so perfect. It captures so many emotions and I love how you pointed out each diversity which is wonderful to see and was all really well developed. I like that you mentioned the diversity with gender roles because I think that is so important as media can play a role in reproducing gender stereotypes but it can always show that they isn’t a fixed set of rules to be considered a certain gender and this book highlights that with Aristotle and Dante. I also loved the family diversity and how is showed that they are so many different families and they are all valid.
    The culture identity was really good as well– I think Dante’s character showed this so much!! And I remember the bit where Ari’s mum said it didn’t ‘un-Mexicanise’ her because she’s educated and I thought it was so important.
    This is a great summer read and I loved all the points you said and the quotes that you put with them. It was so good — you can tell how much love you put into this post and it was lovely to read!!
    And thank you so much for including my review and all the kind words– that’s so sweet!! Thank you!! 💛
    I definitely want to pick it up again after reading your post!! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sophie! You are so, so, SO KIND! Thank you! 💛

      I’m really glad to hear that you enjoyed my post! And there really is so much to love about the book, but I really loved the different diversities and just had to include them. I 100% agree with you about gender roles. Media can be so damaging in how we perceive what is the “right” way to be a gender. Really, and just like you mentioned, showing so many different diversity will help countless readers feel represented, and that’s the most important thing.

      All of the mentions of culture identity were so interesting to me! Ari is so self-conscious of himself (while being really proud of his heritage) and looks at people like Dante and wonders how people can actually like themselves, while Dante is actually doubting his heritage. I think that that discrepancy offers a really interesting look into how we don’t know how other people truly think of themselves. And Ari’s mom’s comment just really sold the whole thing for me because even someone confident in their culture like Ari can give into stereotypes i.e. thinking that you have to be uneducated to be Mexican.

      Thank you so much again, Sophie! Like I said, this post took me a bit longer than my usual posts, but I had so much fun writing it. And another big thank you for writing such a wonderful review that inspired me to reread it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a wonderful post!! ❤
        Exactly readers feeling represented is such an amazing thing and so important so it is great when you can find a book which provides that representation which can mean so much!
        Yes you are so right– it did show how we often don't know how people few themselves and the inner struggles they have.
        I'm glad you enjoyed writing– honestly it was a great post and captured so much about this amazing book!! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lauren, this is my favorite post I’ve ever read. Ever. Thank you so so so much for sharing.
    Ari & Dante is one of my favorite books ever as well, but I feel like my emotional attachment to it has kinda clouded my thoughts for a while, in the sense that it’s always been a struggle expressing everything that I love about this book. But it’s like you got into my mind and developed everything in a much better way I could’ve ever expressed. So, yeah, thank you. Starting from now on, I’ll attach this post to every person I recommend Ari & Dante to, because I can not stress enough all the important elements of this story and you did it wonderfully.
    I have re-read Ari & Dante three or four times now, and I am fascinated by how I pick different things up everytime I re-read it, and how it’s also attached to what I’m currently going through. I can not wait to read it three years from now and see how the story has changed slightly, mirroring my own feelings and thoughts.
    Again, thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful post! I’m so in love with it. 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lais, I don’t mean it lightly in the slightest sense in saying that this comment positively made my year. I’m so beyond thrilled to hear how much you loved this post, and even happier to hear that I somehow managed to make all of my emotions about Ari & Dante somewhat coherent 😂. Truly, I don’t even have the words to tell you how much your comment means to me.

      I love the fact that this is a book that you can read time and time again, and you always find something new. And I fully agree; because there is so much going on and so much represented within the book, it can match up to any point of your life.

      Honestly Lais, thank you so, so, so much for this. Again, your kindness has left me at a loss of word ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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