98 pages 3 hours read

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a young adult fiction novel published in 2012. The novel won a Lambda Literary Award, a Pura Belpre Award, and a Stonewall Book Award. It was also named a Printz Honor Book. Told from a first-person point of view, the book is a work of realistic fiction set in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1980s.

Plot Summary

Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza is the main character in this coming-of-age story. He is a teenage Latino boy growing up in El Paso, Texas, and is “a mystery even to [him]self” (16). As Ari waits for his real life to begin, he broods by himself, wonders about his older brother Bernardo who is in prison, and wishes his life was different. He is desperate for guidance as he navigates the rough waters of his teenage years, but he finds no help anywhere until he meets Dante Quintana at the swimming pool. Dante is unlike anyone Ari has ever met. He reads poetry, cries over a dead bird, and shows his emotions readily. The boys help each other endure their loneliness, and in each other they discover a path toward happiness; however, they do not arrive there without overcoming many obstacles first.

When a car swerves in the street, Ari risks his life to save Dante and ends up in the hospital with broken legs. Dante moves to Chicago and the distance puts a strain on their friendship. Dante and Ari both experiment with kissing girls, but Dante realizes that he would rather kiss boys. Dante is beaten up badly by a group of boys who see him kissing another boy, and Ari comes to Dante’s defense only to realize that he loves Dante.

As Dante teaches Ari how to be vulnerable, Ari begins to ask his parents questions he was too afraid to ask before. Aristotle discovers the answers to the questions that plague him, including why his father is so silent, and why nobody talks about his older brother, Bernardo. He realizes that the painful journey to adulthood does not insulate one from heartache, pain, or nightmares. Ari also realizes that his parents are human, a reflection of another facet of the mystery of love.

Through their friendship, Ari and Dante help each other discover the answers to difficult questions surrounding their identities. They weather the vicissitudes of first love, and Ari finally embraces his true self.