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Literature / Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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A coming of age novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe takes place in El Paso, Texas in 1987 and follows the life of 15 year old Aristotle Mendoza whose life changes when he meets Dante Quintana.
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Ari 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.

The novel is told from Ari's point of view and focuses largely on his emotional struggles as he tries to figure out who his father was before Vietnam left him closed off, who his brother is now that his family refuses to acknowledge his existence, and who he is as someone who's not quite a boy and not quite a man.

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The book was nominated for a Printz Award in 2013.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Tropes of the Universe:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Mostly because he's in prison, but the rest of the family refuses to acknowledge his existence. Ari can't even remember what he looks like.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Considering that Dante has said he only enjoys kissing girls when picturing them as boys, that he wants to marry a man, and that he'll never fall in love with a girl, he's probably completely gay. Ari, on the other hand, had a crush on Iliana. It doesn’t last that long though, and Ari’s orientations aren’t focused on that much. Ari doesn't express much sexual desire towards anyone, thinking and dreaming about kissing rather than anything sexual. With the exception of one or two comments, Ari could be interpreted as asexual and romantically attached to men, and possibly others.
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  • Angst: Ari's inner monologue is full of it.
  • Coming-Out Story: A nice change from most LGBT realistic fiction in that it's not the entire focus of the story, but still a part of Ari and Dante's character arcs without being sidelined.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: A noted trait of Dante's, finding the most implausible of excuses to get rid of his shoes and go around either in socks or barefoot.
  • Everyone Can See It: Both Ari and Dante's parents gently suggest that their sons may be in love with each other.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Among other reasons, including his parents' intervention, Ari realizes he has feelings for Dante after getting jealous over his relationship with Daniel.
  • I Owe You My Life: Dante after Ari saves him from getting hit by a car.
  • Long Title:
  • It Meant Something to Me: Dante about their Test Kiss.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The reason for Bernardo's imprisonment is revealed to be because he murdered a prostitute this way.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Both Ari and Dante's parents are cool with them being gay, and even like the idea of the boys dating.
  • Outnumbered Sibling: With his brother out of the picture, Ari is basically the only boy in his family. He hates it when his much older sisters get together and gossip about him like he's not there, then gets in trouble when he tries to call them out on it.
  • Practice Kiss: Dante and Ari share one at Dante's suggestion, ostensibly as an experiment because neither of them have kissed boys before. Really, though, it's more of a Test Kiss disguised as a practice kiss, since Dante reveals that he had felt something from it, and Ari firmly denies feeling any sparks.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Ari and Dante get one after finally confessing their feelings for each other during a final trip to the desert.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Ari's father is a Vietnam War veteran who refuses to speak about his experience in the war and is clearly traumatized by it.
  • Shipper on Deck: Both Ari and Dante's parents are on board with the Ari/Dante ship. Hell, Ari's parents are the ones that gently push him into realizing his feelings for Dante.
  • Straight Gay: Ari.
  • Transparent Closet: Ari, to the point where his own parents realize he's in love with Dante before he does, and have to literally verbally point it out to him.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Dante.

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