Today, I finished the latest book on my shelf: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. And maybe you haven’t heard of it, but I needed to write something about it. Anything. Because hell does this book deserve it.
**SPOILER FREE POST**
Ari and Dante are a pair of teenage boys, living in El Paso. They are opposing forces. Ari loses himself to thoughts of his imprisoned brother, while Dante loses himself to poetry. Ari isn’t the best at communicating, while Dante is skilled with words. Ari is filled with insecurity where Dante is filled with self-confidence. But during the summer that they meet, their lives are intertwined on a journey of growth and friendship. A journey of discovering the truths of the world.
And doesn’t that sound like the most terrifying journey of all to a teenager?
I don’t want to give too much away here because I want people to read this book, and 300-and-something pages isn’t too big a commitment. But this book did things to my heart. My god. It made my heart tear open on some pages, and on others it made my heart sing.
And the emotions. Emotions more complex than I ever thought words would be able to conjure. Sadness mixed with confusion and loneliness. Anger in a cocktail of love, helplessness, and self-doubt. Happiness marinated in fascination and uncertainty. Emotions that are almost poetry in their own right. I laughed and I cried and I needed to make someone feel loved. It was affecting, in every aspect. The story, and its telling, is honest, and unapologetically real.
There’s something in Ari that speaks to the heart, something that makes him relatable. I think there’s a part of him that will resonate with everyone. Anyone who’s been a teenager knows what those years are like, and hell does it make you root for him. I was desperate for him to be happy – with his mum, with his dad, with Dante, with his brother, with himself – and there was part of me that was terrified that he might not find that eventual happiness. I think that’s what hooked me into his story. I needed to know that he could come out the other side, and he’d be okay.
It’s a story that isn’t told enough. And there are so many teenagers out there who need to hear this story, to be able to accept themselves, and have confidence in their own identity. I’ve heard it said “I wish someone was there to tell me,” enough times to know that.
Here is a coming-of-age tale that I will remember, written with such care and love. This book really is a thing of beauty. And if there’s one thing I’ve taken from it, one secret of the universe I’ve discovered, it’s this: don’t ever apologise for love.