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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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

BOOK review
Started on: 3.December.2015
Finished on: 6.December.2015

Title : Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author : Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Publisher : Simon & Schuster
Pages :  359 pages /  pages (e-book)
Year of Publication : 2014
Price : Rp 174,000 (

Rating: 4/5
"I had a feeling there was something wrong with me. I guess I was a mystery even to myself. That sucked. I had serious problems."
Aristotle—often called Ari, is a fifteen-year-old who prefers to be alone and doesn't really have any friends. He has trouble expressing his feelings and thoughts to other people, until he met Dante. The two met at the swimming pool when Dante offered to teach Ari how to swim. They're different in every way. Ari feels distant from his father who is scarred by war and his mother seems to hold secrets regarding Ari's brother who's in prison. On the other hand, Dante's parents are absolutely warm, loving, and affectionate towards their son. But despite their differences, Ari found comfort in befriending Dante. However, as Ari and Dante spent a lot of time together, their friendship gradually changes after a life-threatening event that happened to them.

"I didn't understand how you could live in a mean world and not have any of that meanness rub off on you. How could a guy live without some meanness?"
Then Dante had to move away to Chicago because his father was offered a new job. Away from each other, the two of them discovered different things. Dante tried everything from parties, marijuana, alcohol, and even kissing girls. While Ari is focused on discovering the secrets about his brother. Dante kept their friendship by sending letters to Ari, however Ari doesn't send replies as much as the letters had arrived. Things changed drastically when Dante revealed something about himself to Ari. And slowly they discovered the secrets of the universe, and discovered themselves as well.
"I was mostly invisible. I think I liked it that way. And then Dante came along."
"Someday, I'm going to discover all the secrets of the universe."
image source: here. edited by me.
First of all, I need to emphasize again how beautiful the cover of this book is. I really want a poster-sized version so I can hang it up on my bedroom wall. And I guess I went into this book the wrong way, because I had an extremely high expectation towards it since I heard amazing things about it. No doubt, the story is beautiful and captivating—however, it does fell short of my expectation. This book is a coming of age story that deals with friendship, family relationships, and self-discovery. The story is written from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Aristotle (Ari), so readers will get to see his train of thoughts from beginning to end. Even though I could relate to some of the questions in Ari's head, there are times when I see him as a strange character and made me wonder why he did what he did. And at times I also want to know more about what Dante is thinking.

There are various conflicts in this book, mostly are internal conflicts within the characters themselves. The main character (Ari) alone has so many problems; starting from his name which made everyone expected something more from him, the fact that he lived his life trying to fulfill other people's expectation of him, his curiosity about his imprisoned older brother, Ari's relationship with his father, and many more. And these conflicts helped the characters discover and accepting one's self, no matter how wrong it might seem in other people's eyes. The pacing/plot of the story itself feels kind of slow and flat in the beginning, but I grow more interested as the story progressed and things are starting to be revealed. Although I enjoyed most of the story, I do feel that the ending kind of fell flat. Still beautiful, but doesn't really give me full satisfaction.
"They were all over me, hugging me and saying nice things, and I wanted to cry. Because their affection was so real and somehow, I felt I didn't deserve it or felt maybe that they were hugging the guy who had saved their son's life. I wanted them to hug me just because I was Ari and I would never be just Ari to them. But I had learned how to hide what I felt. No, that's not true. There was no learning involved. I had been born knowing how to hide what I felt."
As I said earlier, this book is so beautifully written. So I'm going to include some of my favorite quotes from this book in my review to give you an idea what the book is like. These quotes are the ones that successfully made me pause, reread the sentence, and contemplate on its' meaning. Some of these quotes really hit home with me, because I do experience some of the things that Ari went through. Things like people's expectations / suggestions about who I am or how I should be, being inside our own private universe of pain or guilt, and the fact that everyone of us are fighting our own private wars.

☆ Favorite Quotes ☆

"I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that's why I didn't have any friends."
"My life was still someone else's idea."
"I was suddenly jealous of him. He could swim, he could draw, he could talk to people. He read poetry and he liked himself. I wondered how that felt, to really like yourself. And I wondered why some people didn't like themselves and others did. Maybe that's just the way it was."
"I didn't think it was my job to accept what everyone said I was and who I should be. Maybe if you weren't so quiet, Ari... Maybe if you could just be more disciplined... Yeah, everyone had suggestions as to what was wrong with me and what I should become."
"Sometimes, I think everyone is like the people in that painting, everyone lost in their own private universes of pain or sorrow or guilt, everyone remote and unknowable. The painting reminds me of you. It breaks my heart."
"Another secret of the universe: 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."
"We all have to bear things, Ari. All of us. Your father has to bear the war and what it did to him. You have to bear your own painful journey to becoming a man. And it is painful for you, isn't it, Ari?"
"And I'm sorry. It's like I said, Ari, we don't always do the right things, you know? We don't always say the right things. Sometimes, it seems like it just hurts too much to look at something. So you don't You just don't look. But it doesn't go away, Ari."
"And it was true what my mother said. We all fight our own private wars."

In the end, I really enjoyed this book and Benjamin Alire Sáenz's simple yet beautiful writing despite my disappointments. This author has actually wrote a lot of books in the past, but I think this one is his most popular one since it won a bunch of awards in 2013. Even though I expected more from the plot, this is still a book that made me think about a lot of things—and I really liked that. I think people who read this book will interpret or relate to the story differently. Because some people absolutely enjoyed and loved this book, while there are others who doesn't really care about the story at all. If  you're curious, you can try and read this book yourself ;)
"The problem with trying hard not to think about something was that you thought about it even more."
"I sat up on my bed and ran my fingers over the scars on my legs. Scars. A sign that you had been hurt. A sign that you had healed.
Had I been hurt?
Had I healed?
Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing. Like my father. I think that's where he lived. In that in-between space. In that ecotone."
by.stefaniesugia♥ .


  1. Covernya astaga... Minta dibeli dan dibaca. Keliatannya oke critanya juga.

  2. what a beautiful cover! beberapa kali liat buku ini dipajang di books&beyond rasanya pingin comot aja :D

  3. I think i had like pieces of post-its every three pages or so .. because the quotes are just... so good ... worth remembering definitely !


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