Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442408944
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 02/21/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 48,451
Lexile: HL380L (what's this?)
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Read an Excerpt


ONE SUMMER NIGHT I FELL ASLEEP, HOPING THE WORLD would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in through my open window.

My hand reached for the dial on the radio. “Alone” was playing. Crap, “Alone,” a song by a group called Heart. Not my favorite song. Not my favorite group. Not my favorite topic. “You don’t know how long . . .”

I was fifteen.

I was bored.

I was miserable.

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

The DJ was saying annoying, obvious things like, “It’s summer! It’s hot out there!” And then he put on that retro Lone Ranger tune, something he liked to play every morning because he thought it was a hip way to wake up the world. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Who hired this guy? He was killing me. I think that as we listened to the William Tell Overture, we were supposed to be imagining the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding their horses through the desert. Maybe someone should have told that guy that we all weren’t ten-year-olds anymore. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Crap. The DJ’s voice was on the airwaves again: “Wake up, El Paso! It’s Monday, June fifteenth, 1987! 1987! Can you believe it? And a big ‘Happy Birthday’ goes out to Waylon Jennings, who’s fifty years old today!” Waylon Jennings? This was a rock station, dammit! But then he said something that hinted at the fact that he might have a brain. He told the story about how Waylon Jennings had survived the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. On that note, he put on the remake of “La Bamba” by Los Lobos.

“La Bamba.” I could cope with that.

I tapped my bare feet on the wood floor. As I nodded my head to the beat, I started wondering what had gone through Richie Valens’s head before the plane crashed into the unforgiving ground. Hey, Buddy! The music’s over.

For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.

© 2012 Benjamin Alire SÁenz

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Benjamin Alire Saenz is a writer with a sidewinder punch. Spare sentences connect resonant moments, and then he knocks you down with emotional truth. The story of Ari and Dante’s friendship widens and twists like a river, revealing truths about how hard love is, how family supports us, and how painfully deep you have to go to uncover an authentic self.”—Judy Blundell, National Book Award-winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied

"This book took my breath away. What gorgeous writing, and what a story! I loved both these boys. And their parents! Don't we all wish we had parents like theirs? The ending - and the way it unfolded - was so satisfying. I could go on and on...suffice it to say I will be highly recommending it to one and all. I'm sure I'll reread it myself at some point. I hated having it end." —James Howe, Author of Addie on the Inside

"I’m absolutely blown away. This is Saenz's best work by far...It’s a beautiful story, so beautifully told and so psychologically acute! Both Ari and Dante are simply great characters who will live on in my memory. Everything about the book is absolutely pitch perfect...It’s already my favorite book of the year!"—Michael Cart, Booklist columnist and YALSA past president

* "A tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "Authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice."—School Library Journal, starred review

"Sáenez writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenez does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other...those struggling with their own sexuality may find it to be a thought-provoking read."—Booklist

"Sáenz has written the greater love story, for his is the story of loving one’s self, of love between parents and children, and of the love that builds communities, in addition to the deepening love between two friends."—VOYA

"Ari’s first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance."—The Horn Book

"Sáenz is a master at capturing the conversation of teens with each other and with the adults in their lives."—Library Media Connection, Recommended

"Primarily a character- and relationship-driven novel, written with patient and lyrical prose that explores the boys’ emotional lives with butterfly-wing delicacy."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

About the Book

When Aristotle, a loner, meets Dante at the swimming pool, the two strike up an unparalleled relationship. Dante is everything Aristotle wishes he were: articulate, smart, and self-confident. Together they begin questioning the secrets of the universe and navigating the painful journey from adolescence into adulthood. Sharing books, dreams, a near-fatal accident, and a year apart, the two discover the power of their friendship and develop an inseparable bond.

Prereading Questions

1. Do people always have to understand the people they love? Why or why not?

2. What characteristics are most admirable in a close friend?

Questions for Discussion

1. Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza is one of four children. His two older sisters and his older brother no longer live at home. Describe his relationship with his siblings. Why does he feel like the family mascot?

2. How does Ari meet Dante? Compare and contrast their personalities.

3. Why do Ari and Dante become friends? What personality traits does Ari most admire in Dante and why?

4. Does Ari have a close relationship with his parents? How does his relationship with his mother differ from his relationship with his father?

5. Where is Ari’s older brother Bernardo, and how is the family impacted by Bernardo’s absence?

6. Why is Ari’s father distant and how does he manage to deal with his emotional state? How does his wife justify his emotional distance?

7. How does Ari save Dante’s life and at what personal cost? Why does Ari feel angry after the accident? How does Ari’s relationship with his parents change after the accident?

8. Tragedy sometimes sets the stage for families to discuss topics that are long overdue. In what way does the accident help Ari better understand his parents? How does it help his parents come to know him better?

9. Why does Ari feel angry after the accident? By what rules does he insist that he and Dante play in regards to the accident? Why does he insist on these rules?

10. Dante is an artist and shares his sketchbook with Ari shortly after the accident. Why does Ari not look at the drawings? Why does he eventually do so?

11. Why do Ari’s parents buy him a pickup? Would they have done so prior to the accident? Why or why not?

12. How does Ari feel about Dante’s family moving to Chicago for one school year? How do the two stay connected during this time?

13. During their year apart, how do both Ari and Dante grow? Explain.

14. Who are Gina Naverro and Susie Byrd? How does Ari develop a friendship with them?

15. Ari becomes obsessed with kissing a classmate named Ileana. What role does Ileana play in the story? Is Ari in love with her?

16. Ari’s and Dante’s parents become good friends. Are they good parents? Support your response with evidence from the text.

17. In what way is a sparrow a symbol in the story?

18. Is Ari a responsible teen? Support your response with examples.

19. Ari is curious about his brother; however, he refuses to open an envelope that contains information about his brother that he finds tucked away in a drawer. Why does he not open the folder?

20. Ari’s mother leaves for a few days to care for an ailing aunt. How does his aunt’s death impact Ari’s parents? What does Ari learn about her, and his own family, after her death? How does this information impact him?

21. When Dante is beaten up for kissing a boy, Ari seeks revenge on Dante’s tormenters. Why does his revenge scare his parents? Is their fear justified? Why or why not?

22. How does Ari resolve his feelings for Dante? How does he resolve his feelings about his own self worth?

Questions for Further Discussion

1. In the beginning of the story, Ari doesn’t understand his father. He describes him as a “mystery.” As Ari matures he says, “I came to understand that my father was a careful man.” Explain Ari’s acceptance and understanding of his father.

2. Dante is a well-developed, unique character. What characteristics and behaviors does the author give Dante that contribute to this uniqueness?

3. Both Ari and Dante have distinctive voices. How does the author use dialogue to develop character voice? Cite examples.

4. At Dante’s suggestion, Ari reads Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and agrees with Conrad that the world is a dark place. Why does Ari have this viewpoint? Does this belief alter by story’s end?

5. The author uses a storm as a metaphor for pain. He writes, “Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.” How is this a fitting metaphor for Ari’s life? For his father’s?

6. Both Ari and his father have dreams in the story. Describe their dreams. What do the dreams mean to each of them?

7. Ari is depicted throughout the story as being lonely. What factors account for his loneliness and confusion? What role do his parents play in helping him accept his identity?

8. The novel is written from Ari’s point of view. How might the story be different were it written from Dante’s perspective?

9. Both Ari and Dante are intelligent teens. How does the author use vocabulary to convey this characteristic? Cite examples.

10. Ari feels self-contempt in the beginning of the story. What accounts for this feeling and how does it change as the story progresses?

Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards ( has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Customer Reviews

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 90 reviews.
blue-pearl101 More than 1 year ago
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a great novel. This book follows two teen boys and the journey through their friendship. Benjamin did a great job of displaying the theme of this book. Throughout the book you see the power of friendship. I really enjoyed this book because the author really captures the friendship between the two boys. Benjamin also knows how to capture your emotions in this book. He makes you fall in love with the characters within a short amount of time. This book is about two teen boys. The boys are very different in many ways. Aristotle has a hard time with words and struggles with self-doubt. Dante is very self-assured. The boys may not seem to be a good match, but once they meet they become instant friends. Throughout the book the boys form a special bond, discover themselves, and go on small adventures. Together they learn more about the world and face some big obstacles. But the power of friendship gets them through it. Through each other the boys learn some of the most important parts of life. This book was very captivating and was beautifully written. Once I started it I couldn’t put it down. Benjamin really knew how to grab a reader’s attention with the plot of this story. It went at a great pace and had characters that were easy to relate to. The style in which the author wrote this book was great. Hands down I would recommend this book to anyone who loves an emotional story full of twists and turns. In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book. It was a very great story. It really captured the power of friendship and the struggles of falling in love with your best friend. I think Benjamin did a great job with this book. Anyone who loves a great story should read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I devoured the entire book in less than 24 hours. Ive never been so cptivated by a book that it changed my whole take on life. BEST BOOK YOU WILL EVER READ! SO READ IT!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was truly beautiful. I was not concerned where it would end, because I just loved reading the words on the page in front of me. Even more, the dialogue made the whole piece flow, because it was not plagued with "he said." More importantly, I felt very comfortable reading this book because there were no glaring explicit events, yet in no way was it an easy or young read. For those who enjoy quality writing and have been bored with dystopian futures, please read. :)
Tina_Chan More than 1 year ago
¿Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz ¿Genre: fiction Review:  Okay, this novel wins the "longest-book-title" award hands down. What a mouthful to say--really, say it out loud now. Aristotle. And. Dante. Discover. The. Secrets. Of. The. Universe. Okay, I'm done talking about the book's title and am ready to actually talk about the contents itself. I found the main character, Aristotle (also known as Ari) to be intriguing. He's only fifteen years old yet he already feels like an old man. He's a loner, but he doesn't get bullied because he can fight good enough to defend himself, but that doesn't mean he has friends either. Ari feels that he has life basically figured out: it sucked. At least that's the way his summer his looking so far until he meets Dante at the community pool. Ari can't swim. Dante can. Dante's also friendly, brave, smart and quirky. Ari accepts Dante's offer to teach him how to swim and they  quickly befriend each other. There really is not "climax" of the book (unless maybe if you count Ari getting severely injured to push Dante  out of the way of an out of control truck...but that happens like 1/3 into the novel so I don't think that's the climax). I think the plot of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is more of a slow burn type of plot. What I mean is that the novel is engaging enough so that it keeps you flipping the pages and then the tension increases some, and some more and some more until you HAVE to finish the book. (Fast burn plots are are-on-the-edge-of-your-seat pacing.) The writing was beautiful. Sure Ari is a somewhat troubled kid and may drop a few swears here and there...yet many of the chapters are  very poetic. Does that even make sense? Poetic swearing? Another thing about this book--the chapters are short. Like short shorts short. But I think it suits the book perfectly because each chapter tells a story. The story may be as big as describing an important event , or as small as conveying an emotion to the reader. This book is definitely a coming of age novel as the two boys struggle to discover themselves and find their place in the world. Here are  some of my favorite quotes from the book: "That afternoon, I learned two new words. 'Inscrutable.' And 'friend.' Words are different when they lived inside of you." "I returned to the book of poems. I read a  line and tried to understand it: 'from what we cannot hold the stars are made.' It was a beautiful thing to say, but I didn't know what it meant." "If I switched the letter my name [Ari] was Air. I thought it might be a great thing to be the air. I could be something and nothing at the  same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me." Likes: *touching story of friendship *many life lessons *interesting characters *unexpected twist at the end *friendship between Dante and Ari can be relatable (like when you share an inside joke with a friend and both burst out laughing when you see something that triggers it) Dislikes: *how the characters often repeated each others words
owltellyouaboutit More than 1 year ago
I had to give myself some space from this novel after I finished it because I was so floored. I’m still not sure I can capture exactly how it made me feel or how much I loved it. Aristotle, or Ari, is angsty and confused. He’s angry that his parents won’t talk to him about his brother, who’s in prison. He’s also a loner, never feeling like he quite fits in with other boys. Dante is a brilliant boy who tries to look on the brighter side of life. The two seem to have nothing in common, but learn a lot about themselves through their friendship. Ari and Dante are the kinds of characters that feel very real and jump off the page, but you would be hard-pressed to find real people like them. I loved the literary references, commentaries on different aspects of life, and their parents. It’s so easy to find YA books with parents who are either never around or are unsupportive. Ari and Dante have wonderful parents who love them, talk to them, and want them to be happy. I wish everyone could have parents like them. The writing was so beautiful that I immediately wanted to read everything Saenz has ever written. I liked that the LGBT elements weren’t of the in-your-face variety. It’s just genuine. I also loved their struggle with where they stand as Americans and Mexicans. It was so refreshing to read about these topics when they’re handled subtly and well. This book definitely deserves all of the acclaim and awards. The narration was good, but I had to let it grow on me. I wasn’t sure about his voice in the beginning. After listening to nearly the entire book in one sitting, his voices became the characters’ voices to me. I’m already re-reading this one in print to pick up on any quotes I might want to tag and I can still hear the narrator’s voices in my head. Go read this book now!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is honestly so beautiful. I finished the book in a day because I couldn't bring myself to put it down. I definitely recommend reading this book. The book is beautifully written and you can Learn a lot from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love,love,love this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with this book so quickly
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If your looking for a fun and honest portrayal of young love this is it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ari has a hard time expressing his feelings and has no friends. Dante is optimistic and reads poetry and cries over dead birds. Together they hate tv and struggle with their mexican american identites.. they really are like little philosophers.
Rasseau More than 1 year ago
This book helped developed my relationship with my family, I extremely love Dante's 'no secret' part. And this story established my view of the world and the universe into a new higher level as I found Aristotal's notion of his life (miserable, confusing, lonely) pretty inspiring, and the process as he met Dante first at the swimming pool, puzzled by his optimistic characteristic and his logical life, lovely family and infinitive dream. On the other hand ,Aristotle's relationship with his father which I found the most attractive part. His father was a wordless man who once joined the army and endured great harm during the Vietnum warfare, Aristotle also inherited this disadvantage from his father-don't know how to express his own feelings and be with people defendlessly(Aristotle even hated to be a guy!) .
thenutellapanini More than 1 year ago
My favorite book in the universe. Really, so beautiful and tender and I just love all the characters, even Legs and Fidel. 
JonnMnz More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Doesn't have needless sappy drama like other YA books. I finished it in 2 days because I simply could not stop my self from reading it. I bought this on a whim and it was the best decision, you will not regret reading this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has left me speechless. The author is truly amazing with his words and the story is unforgettable. It's truly a book to read over and over again. I'm in love with this work and I can't believe I didn't read it sooner. I finished this book in 12 hours, crying all the while. The characters are real and funny, they're sarcastic and full of wit. They are so much more than I had ever expected from this book.  This book made my heart ache more than any other book I've ever read, and I've read The Fault in Our Stars and many other ones of the sort.
Anonymous 22 days ago
One of the book choices in my Summer Homework, read and finished this book in 4-5 hours straight, no breaks whatsoever. It was so funny a captivating. I will definitely read this again in the future.
Anonymous 5 months ago
the story of two teenage boys who's growing friendship slowly turns into a Powerful Love Affair. Aristotle Mendoza and Dante quinntana are delightful, believable and memorable characters. convincingly authentic characterizations in a captivating narrative. a great read.
Anonymous 7 months ago
such an amazing story
Anonymous 9 months ago
Bookyogi 12 months ago
I do not honestly know why it took me so long to read it. Ari and Dante are two characters you can’t help but fall in love. I couldn’t put it down and now wish I was still reading it. This book lives up to every worthy award…beautiful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this story of two boys
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely breathtaking. I'll be re-reading for the rest of my life. This book is about masculinity, re-writing the rules, identity, the pain of being a teenager and being alive at all, and so much more.
Charlotte_R More than 1 year ago
In 2018 I made it a mission to read only LGBT+ books, Aristotle and Dante has been on my shelf for longer than that, but I never picked it up for some reason. My best friend really pushed it on me as one of her favorites, so I promised to read it before the year was over. I never did, never did, never did - until finally, two weeks ago, I downloaded the audiobook (huge shout out to Lin-Manuel Miranda who did a fantastic A+ job) and took it with me on Christmas vacation. I had nothing important to do besides read that book. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to get into it. The beginning was rough - not by writing style, but by the fact that Aristotle (besides being male, mexican, and growing up in the 80s) reminded me a lot of myself at 15 - withdrawn, bit of an outcast, angry. I related to him in ways that made me feel like a teenager again and I was not really A Fan. About two hours in though, I had to admit that I was extremely invested in Ari and Dante’s tale. Never have I read a YA book in which the parents were portrayed so well, in which being in the lives of teenage boys felt as if you were right there with them, in which I so easily fell in love with Dante because *Ari* was falling in love with Dante. I was obsessed, and I watched the time I had until it finished get shorter and shorter with a heavier and heavier heart because it felt as if I could never get enough of those boys. By the time it was over I had tears in my eyes and a desperate need for *more*. I immediately flooded the internet for merch, but unfortunately, there just isn’t much. I did however learn that there’s a sequel in the works AND a movie, so my heart is currently being held together by strings. All in all, I really can’t brag about this one enough. Please read it. Don’t let it sit alone as long as I did. It will fix your depression and clear your skin. LOL Thank you, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, for writing this book and sharing it with the world. I cannot wait until you bless us with more secrets of the universe.
florencia More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. It is very well written and keeps you engaged the whole time. It is definitely one of those books that once you get into it, you can't put it down! It's a very sweet and heart warming story that starts a very serious conversation about sexuality. Everyone should read it.