Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a pretty long title for a young adult novel. It’s about two Mexican-American teenage boys growing up in El Paso, Texas in the eighties. That’s really all you need to know about the plot before you read it (read it!).
There aren’t many ‘great’ young adult novels about growing up gay, but this is one of them. The first aspect of it that attracted me was the title. It’s a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is a seminal epic poem where Dante Alighieri is guided through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso). In Dante’s orignal work he is guided by Aristotle through these different parts of the universe (as Dante understood it). However in Sáenz’s novel he doesn’t attempt something nearly so ambitious. Instead Ari and Dante learn more about themselves and how the world works.
It’s a really well written book, with a sweet story. I found it difficult to put down, and it’s not exactly suspenseful. The two main characters are well crafted and believable. The people around them are also great and really laid back. I think any young LGBT adult reading it will be filled with hope for their future. It’s that type of novel, and it’s not surprising that it won so many awards.