“The summer was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.”
I have read this novel four times in its entirety. The audiobook narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the most beautiful things I own, and listening to it brings me a sort of indescribable peace. This is why it’s become so easy to keep revisiting this story over and over again.
I first read this novel in April 2014, and although I went in hesitant, I came out of it with one of the most wonderful discoveries of my life. This book means the world to me, and then some. This is the first book I read in which I truly saw myself in the characters.
A book starring Mexican-American characters is rare, but a book starring Mexican-American characters not stereotyped is magical. I adored that aspect the most. Being Mexican, it has always been difficult for me to see myself in any story. I never even considered the existence of novels like this, where Mexicans make up the majority of the characters in a story. And that just blew my mind.
Let me break it down for you. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe follows the story of Aristotle Mendoza, or Ari. He’s a teenage boy living in El Paso during the late 80’s. The summer arrives again, and Ari meets Dante at a community swimming pool. The two hit it off, despite Dante being a complete opposite of Ari, in his personality and looks. Their friendship becomes the focus of the novel, and their lives together and separately, closely showcase the most significant years of their adolescence. These two characters transform and develop throughout this beautiful, lyrical novel in ways unimaginable.
I loved the inclusion of the parents in this story. Ari and his mom share a sweet relationship that’s mostly composed of fun bickering, but it’s apparent how much they love each other. Dante and his dad are the same way, fighting over nothing and conspiring over everything. For years, my mom was one of my closest friend, and seeing similar relationships portrayed in this novel was fantastic. My mom actually read this book after much insistence. She read it just a few months before her passing. I remember the day she finished it. She looked at me in all seriousness and told me she loved it, and that she loved Dante the most. I cannot begin to explain how much that meant to me.
Sexuality is explored in this novel as well. Both of the main characters discuss their sexuality multiple times, in more ways than one. It is done in very realistic ways, especially during the time period it’s set in. Personally, I am open to loving any person, outside of their gender, so this resonated with me. It is incredibly important to shed light on the struggles that people who are not straight face nowadays, and have faced for years, and for that, this book is important. It teaches acceptance and love despite society’s cruelty. And it brings to life a love story like no other.
“The whole world seemed to be quiet and calm and I wanted to be the world and feel like that.”
So for these reasons, and many others, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is my favorite book. Simple as that. It still makes me laugh, cry, and remember. It is now something that constantly connects me to my mother, to my culture, to my younger self, and it is something I never want to let go.
I know this book isn’t perfect. Far from it. But there’s nothing I would change in it. I love the author, Benjamin Alire Saenz, to pieces, and I’m grateful that he wrote such an amazing, memorable story.
And every summer, especially when it’s raining, I’ll think of Ari and Dante. I’ll think of them and life will be just a little bit more bearable.