In-Depth Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

In-Depth Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Alire Sáenz’s novel “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is a profound exploration of identity, friendship, and love. Published in 2012, this young adult novel has resonated with readers for its heartfelt depiction of two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana, as they navigate the complexities of adolescence, family dynamics, and self-discovery.

As an avid reader and enthusiast of contemporary young adult literature, I found this novel to be a captivating and emotionally rich journey. The story is not just a coming-of-age tale but also a poignant exploration of the myriad ways in which friendship can transform our lives. Sáenz’s writing style is lyrical and evocative, making this book a compelling read.

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Thesis Statement: Through the story of Ari and Dante, Sáenz masterfully illustrates the transformative power of friendship and the journey of self-acceptance, making this novel a significant contribution to young adult literature and LGBT narratives.

Suggested Reading Age: 14+


Plot Overview:

The story unfolds in El Paso, Texas, during the late 1980s. Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza is an introspective and often angry teenager, grappling with the mysteries of his older brother’s incarceration, a topic shrouded in silence by his family. Ari’s world is lonelier and more confined until he meets Dante Quintana, a charismatic and philosophical boy who opens up a world of literature, poetry, and contemplation for Ari.

Their friendship blossoms over a shared summer, filled with discussions about life, identity, and their Mexican-American heritage. An accident that sees Dante saving Ari from being hit by a car deepens their bond. However, as they navigate high school, their relationship is tested by physical distance, personal tragedies, and the daunting task of understanding their own identities. Dante’s open acknowledgment of his homosexuality challenges Ari’s perception of himself and his feelings towards Dante.

The climax of the story is a testament to the power of acceptance, both from others and oneself. It’s a journey of confronting fears, familial expectations, and societal norms. The resolution brings a sense of peace and understanding to Ari, as he embraces his love for Dante and reconciles with his family’s past.

Main Characters:This image shows two teenage boys, representing Aristotle and Dante, sitting side by side in a 1980s American high school environment. They are deep in conversation, surrounded by books and school materials, illustrating their friendship and the school backdrop where much of their interaction takes place.

  • Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza (150 words):

Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza is the protagonist of the story, narrating his experiences with a blend of introspection, confusion, and budding wisdom. At fifteen, Ari is a complex character burdened by unspoken family secrets, particularly concerning his older brother’s incarceration. He feels isolated in his struggle, unable to connect deeply with his parents who are reluctant to discuss the past. Ari’s internal landscape is marked by a sense of loneliness, anger, and a desire for understanding – both of himself and the world around him.

Ari’s friendship with Dante becomes a pivotal aspect of his journey towards self-discovery. Initially, he is reserved, even skeptical of forming close bonds. However, Dante’s influence gradually opens him to new perspectives on identity, family, and love. Ari’s evolution throughout the novel is profound, moving from a place of inner turmoil to one of acceptance and self-realization. His story is a poignant exploration of teenage angst, the search for identity, and the transformative power of friendship.

  • Dante Quintana (150 words):

Dante Quintana is an articulate, thoughtful, and emotionally expressive teenager, serving as a foil to Ari’s more reserved nature. With a deep appreciation for art and poetry, Dante possesses a unique perspective on life, often contemplating the larger questions of existence and identity. Unlike Ari, Dante is more in tune with his emotions and is comfortable with his sexual orientation, which he navigates with a sense of honesty and openness.

Dante’s character is pivotal in initiating much of the story’s emotional depth. His openness and willingness to express his feelings challenge Ari to confront his own emotional barriers. Dante’s journey in the novel is not just about self-acceptance but also about navigating the complexities of familial and societal expectations. He faces challenges with resilience, revealing a maturity beyond his years. His relationship with Ari is both a source of comfort and a catalyst for growth, highlighting the novel’s themes of friendship, love, and the courage to be oneself.

This image depicts the serene desert setting in El Paso, reflecting the mood and atmosphere of the novel. The vast open skies and the quiet beauty of the desert resonate with the themes of isolation and introspection present in the story.In-Depth Analysis


  1. Character Development: Sáenz excels in crafting multidimensional characters. Ari and Dante’s growth throughout the novel is not only believable but deeply impactful. Their struggles and triumphs resonate with readers, providing a genuine look into the teenage psyche.
  2. Cultural Representation: The novel does an excellent job of weaving in Mexican-American culture, subtly highlighting issues of ethnicity and identity without overshadowing the main narrative.
  3. Lyrical Prose: Sáenz’s writing style is a standout feature. His poetic and fluid prose adds depth to the narrative, making even ordinary moments seem significant.


  1. Pacing: Some readers might find the pacing slow, especially in the middle of the book where the focus is heavily on character introspection rather than plot advancement.
  2. Underdeveloped Secondary Characters: While Ari and Dante are well fleshed out, some secondary characters lack depth, leaving readers wanting more from their backstories.


The novel’s approach to sensitive topics like sexuality, identity, and family dynamics is both refreshing and nuanced. It avoids clichés common in young adult literature, offering a raw and honest portrayal of adolescent life.

Literary Devices:

  • Symbolism: The desert landscape symbolizes both the isolation and the possibility of growth and discovery for Ari and Dante.
  • Motifs: Recurring motifs include swimming, which represents rebirth and self-discovery, and the universe, symbolizing the vastness and complexity of life and identity.

Relation to Broader Issues:

This novel touches on broader issues like the struggles of LGBTQ youth, the complexities of cultural identity, and the challenges of family communication. It provides a valuable insight into the experiences of Mexican-American families and the universal quest for belonging and acceptance.

 This image features a close-up of a handwritten journal, open on a desk with a pen beside it. The pages are filled with reflections on life, identity, and love, interspersed with sketches symbolizing themes from the novel. It represents the introspective and creative aspects of the characters' personalities and their journey of self-discovery.Evaluation

Potential Audiences:

Ideal for young adults and adults interested in coming-of-age stories, LGBT narratives, and culturally rich literature. It’s also a great pick for readers who appreciate character-driven stories and poetic prose.

Comparisons with Similar Works:

This book can be compared to “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli for its exploration of young love and identity. However, Sáenz’s work delves deeper into cultural identity and family dynamics.

Final Recommendations:

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is a must-read for its beautiful portrayal of friendship, identity, and love. It’s a story that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Thematic Analysis

The novel extensively explores themes of identity, friendship, family, and love. It challenges societal norms and stereotypes, particularly around Mexican-American culture and homosexuality. The theme of silence, represented through Ari’s family’s reluctance to discuss his brother, speaks volumes about the impact of unspoken truths on family dynamics and individual growth.

Stylistic Elements

Sáenz’s narrative style is introspective and thoughtful. The first-person narrative allows readers to delve deep into Ari’s mind, making his journey more intimate and relatable. The dialogue is realistic and often philosophical, adding layers to the characters and their relationships.

Comparisons to Other Works

In addition to “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” this book can be compared to “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman in its exploration of a deep emotional and romantic connection between two young men. However, Sáenz’s narrative is more accessible for younger readers and focuses more on the protagonists’ cultural backgrounds and family life.

Potential Test Questions and Answers

  1. Q: How does the setting of El Paso, Texas, contribute to the story? A: The setting provides a backdrop that is integral to the characters’ Mexican-American identity and shapes their experiences and perspectives.
  2. Q: What role does Ari’s brother play in the story, despite his absence? A: Ari’s brother’s incarceration and the family’s silence around it are central to Ari’s internal conflict and his understanding of family and identity.

Additional Information

Reviews and Ratings:

  • Goodreads: 4.35/5
  • Amazon: 4.8/5

Purchasing Links:

Series Information:

This novel is a standalone book, but a sequel titled “Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World” was published, continuing the story of Ari and Dante.

Other Media Formats:

The book has been adapted into an audiobook, and a planned film adaptation is in development.

Author Information:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an award-winning American author and poet. Born in 1954 in Old Picacho, New Mexico, he has published several novels, poetry books, and children’s books. His works often explore themes of Latino identity and sexuality.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
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