Sunday, October 6, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseOne 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.

"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."

This was a very odd book, and I'm not sure that I liked it. It was certainly not what I was expecting. It almost seemed too angsty and too simplistic at the same time. I didn't really like the style or the main characters. Let's go with the good first: I really liked the beautiful cover and the premise of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I suppose it was a pretty sweet story, but it kind of just didn't work for me. I did like the way it was told though, with breaks and with Aristotle musing on life and his brother. Still, it felt kind of simplified to me, as if the author added all these issues that Ari and Dante have and then didn't flesh them out. For example, the fact that Ari’s brother is in prison. The author could have included more about that. I’m back to the bad. I guess I just didn't really like the book. I also didn't find the prose breathtaking. Not at all. The writing was kind of unremarkable, and as I said, felt kind of simplistic. It took me several days to read this relatively short book, mainly because I didn't feel like continuing to read. But it got a fair amount of acclaim, so I did want to finish the book. I can say now though that I don't think I'll be reading more of this author's work unless a book's plot sounds especially good. 

I also didn't enjoy the two main characters, both of whom did some pretty stupid things. I couldn't relate to them much or like them. A lot of their actions also didn't seem to fit them; for example, the way Ari is so obsessive about some things. I didn't like their friendship/romance either; it was kind of weird. I think it would have worked way better as just a friendship. There were also flat sections of the book where nothing of import seemed to happen, and some incidents that had no relation to the actual story.

I guess something I liked about the book is the fact that the author isn't afraid to take on difficult topics and talk about families who don't talk to one another enough. As I said earlier, it had a good premise; it just didn't develop enough for my taste and was way different from what I was expecting. I would have also liked to have read Dante's perspective a bit, although that wasn't a huge complaint of mine. My criticisms can basically be boiled down to one thing: it wasn't compelling or absorbing. 

Overall, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was definitely a disappointment. I didn't like the characters, the writing, or the plot (although I did like the premise). It could have gone a whole other direction, but it didn't. And I didn't enjoy the book. Parts of it were so vague. I can't say I'd recommend it; if you must, check it out of the library (which thankfully is what I did).

359 pages. 

Rating: **

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