“Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing”
-Benjamin Alire Saenz
Much time had passed since I had picked up a book that had such a lasting impact on me and caused me to feel such a spectrum of emotions. After reading books like Harry Potter and When You Reach Me, I’ve come to the realization that my favorite books are the ones whose stories embody not just a personal or narrated event but a human experience. This is what I found this book to be; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is not about only one thing, it’s about everything.
The story’s protagonist is Aristotle, a teenage boy who has a brother in prison. Not much time is needed to discover that he is an isolated guy who lives in his thoughts. He is the relatable pessimist who overthinks everything and is awful at talking about feelings. His character goes through remarkable changes as time goes by; he matures and finds the truth about his brother and begins to understand his family. Apart from an imperfect family, Aristotle’s story also touches on cultural differences, trouble fitting in, finding himself (in the least cliche way) and what I can only describe as an existential crisis.
Much of his thoughts are translated to the reader through dreams he has. During the summer of his sophomore year, Aristotle meets Dante. They soon become good friends. Dante is Aristotle’s perfect opposite. He overshares, laughs at everything and looks at the world in a peculiar way. In a manner I have never seen a writer do before, Saenz doesn’t undermine the characters, because they’re young, but reveals the real and raw human struggle to overcome a part of your life where you are figuring out who you are and feeling like the whole universe is a mindless thing.
The book strongly resembles poetry, as the dialogue between the characters prove to be an important and lyrical part of the book. This along with Aristotle’s thoughts always seem to hold a sort of rhythm that makes the book fluent and allows events to unfold naturally.
My exposure to Hispanic writers has unfortunately been very brief, but I can see Benjamin Alire Saenz quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. It was refreshing to read such an unfiltered story and be able to find parts of myself in the characters. I will definitely be rereading this novel soon.