Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is another in the ever growing list of banned books. So what are the offensive elements? Well, the usual guilty parties. Drugs. Language. Sex. And homosexuality.
Oh but this is a lovely novel and it makes me sad to think that young readers out there are being warned off reading it because of some over-protective, narrow-minded parents. For one thing, how often are children in young adult novels allowed to have a real family? Think about it. Even those characters who live at home with one or more parents, you rarely see the protagonist interact with the parents, except maybe to be grounded or obstructed in some minor way. However, in this luscious novel, Ari (short for Aristotle) has a loving, if complicated, relationship with both of his parents. When he meets Dante, they seem to be polar opposites. However, like Ari, Dante has a loving relationship with his parents and both boys are Mexican, adding a much needed layer of diversity.
The boys become very close, spending the summer swimming, getting to know one another, and mostly staying out of trouble. Dante, unlike Ari, is an open book but Ari has reasons for being more secretive; he comes from a family weighed down with untold stories. Through Dante, Ari is introduced to literature and poetry. But their differences begin to drive a wedge between them and, when summer ends, things have irrevocably changed for both of them.
The novel is done a disservice in being poorly edited by the publisher, with some sentences missing a word and others having extra words. As frustrating as this can be in a good novel, it is all the more unforgivable in a novel with as much beauty and poetry as this one. There are elegant metaphors and subtle uses of foreshadowing. The author is a master and has written not just another young adult novel but a truly remarkable piece of literature. There were times I chuckled and more than once I got a little choked up. At the novel’s close, I even had tears in my eyes.
I can’t remember the last time I cried over a book I was reading. That is how deeply I was affected by this novel which I obviously highly recommend.